In the beginning of class on one of the first days of the semester, I tried to acquaint myself with some fellow students. As a conversation with one student progressed, I asked what year she’s in.
“Well, I’m actually a super-senior,” she said.
Fumbling over how to respond to the odd assertion, I begin to think: “Super-senior? Why would she say “super”?” Instead of questioning – which I should have – I blindly accepted, what I imagined, was a harmless, self-imposed compliment.
I should have asked the question.
Little did I know that “super” did not refer to a student’s quality, but instead, signaled a student who – typically due to class conflicts and scheduling – was unable to take the required credits to be considered a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.
Yet for many Temple students, this was not only the case due to class conflicts, but also due to balancing school with full-time jobs to afford tuition. But mixing constant work and the learning process can be a dangerous cocktail, which eventually leads to students taking more than four years to graduate.
Temple’s four-year graduation rate hovers around 43 percent. Fast-forward two years, and the six-year graduation rate grows, resulting in a 68 percent graduation rate.
The national average 6-year graduation rate is 59 percent according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Still, for comparison, nearby colleges like Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania, La Salle and Villanova have four-year – or five-year, in the case of Drexel, due to its co-op program – graduation rates of 84 percent, 96 percent, 56 percent and 85 percent, respectively.
And there is a solution to this problem: Cue President Theobald’s “Fly in 4” program, which will pave the way for reducing the stress of middle- and low-income students by allocating 500 $4,000 grants to incoming freshmen for the next few years in an effort to boost Temple’s four-year rates.
While it may seem that this program would contradict the foundation and basis that Russell Conwell envisioned the university as a center where those who had to work could learn, take their time and discover the academic path that suited them, it doesn’t. Fly in 4 is an adjustment to the position that thousands of Americans find themselves in after graduation.
As Theobald explained, this partnership does not contradict Conwell’s goals, but instead, “answers the Conwell mission.”
“You cannot have working students that are spending an inordinate amount of time that is not related to instruction,” Theobald said when announcing the program. “Working students must have the same opportunity to focus on their studies. We’re trying to update the Conwell mission into the modern world.”
The Fly in 4 program is an opportunity for Temple to reshape and reinforce its mission as a school preparing students for “the real world.” It is also an opportunity to raise the graduation rate, which may startle some prospective students.
The program is, as Theobald said, “designed around the issues I hear Temple students speak about. It is a Temple-unique approach.”
According to various estimates, college graduates, on average, leave not only with a diploma in hand, but also $29,400 in debt. Additionally, according to the Project for Student Debt, Temple students graduate with an average of $33,500 in debt, above the national average, perhaps due to 64 percent of students not graduating on time.
There seems no better time to implement change. Without it, Conwell’s mission of educating those who work – those who struggle – cannot be fulfilled.
Romsin McQuade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.