For several years, West Virginia University officials have made it a priority to keep students from wasting time and money by enrolling but dropping out before they obtain degrees. Little by little, WVU's efforts are paying off.
During the 2011-12 academic year, the university had an undergraduate graduation rate of 57 percent, up 2 percent from 2007-08.
But the graduation rate yardstick these days measures how many students gain bachelor's degrees in six years. Remember when B.A. and B.S. degree institutions were thought of as four-year colleges and universities?
WVU's rate of getting students in and out in four years is just 32 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report.
There are any number of reasons why some students take six years to earn degrees some of their classmates win in four years. Colleges and universities can do little about some of those factors, such as students who change majors in the middle of their academic careers. They can act to curb some challenges, such as availability of classes needed to graduate, however.
Finding ways to get more students out of colleges and universities with bachelor's degrees in fewer than six years should go hand in hand with campaigns to keep them from dropping out entirely. Those two additional years are costly - at least $30,000 for in-state students who depend on WVU for room and board.
WVU is West Virginia's flagship university, a leader in education, research, health care and other areas. Its program to boost the undergraduate graduation rate is praiseworthy and important - and has an impact on the four-year degree-earning rate as well as the six-year number. Still, more success is needed on that four-year number.