Long after diplomas are in hand and graduation caps tossed in the air, student loan payments remain for many college grads. According to the Department of Education, students are leaving college faced with significant amounts of student debt. The national average owed for a bachelor’s degree stands at $30,500.

For those with student loans, receiving an undergraduate degree in four years—versus five or six—brings big advantages. Eliminating extra semesters means eliminating additional tuition, translating to lower overall student debt. Plus, graduating sooner allows individuals to enter the workforce sooner, getting a jump start on a career path and hopefully the ability to start paying down debt.

While graduating from a four-year college in four years seems like a straightforward achievement, only 41 percent of students are able to do it, according to The New York Times.

Temple University in Philadelphia is on a mission to change that.

Improving graduation rates

Four years ago, Temple developed the Fly in 4 program to help keep students on track to on-time graduation with the support of academic advisors. Aimed at helping improve students’ financial well-being and improving academic performance, 94 percent of Temple University’s class of 2022 are currently committed to the program.

And the program’s first graduates are proof that it works. Graduation rates are steadily rising at Temple with on-time rates up 11 percent since the program launched. Plus, nearly 300 students have graduated ahead of the Fly in 4 goal, receiving a diploma in just three or three-and-a-half years. That includes 123 early graduates in 2017, and an additional 175 early graduates in 2018—a substantial increase in just one year.

Related: Looking to boost graduation rates?

An on-time graduation is a two-way street

The Fly in 4 program begins with a commitment from students and builds in required student checkpoints throughout the year. Meeting with academic advisors to review requirements and progress is critical to the program’s success, with individuals required to register early for priority classes and to complete at least 30 credits per year. Under Fly in 4, if a student fulfills all of the responsibilities of the plan but still cannot graduate on time, Temple will pay for any remaining classes.

Using technology to fast-track student success at Temple University

Temple must keep its Fly in 4 promises, too. The university provides a four-year plan designed for individual students—backed by quality academic advising—creates progress reports, and ensures alternatives if a required course is not available.

Technology and student success go hand-in-hand

Technology plays a huge role in helping both groups meet their milestones. Temple relies on a comprehensive technology system, Ellucian Banner, which was designed to enable higher-ed institutions to grant access to the right information, to the right people, at the right time. The platform gives Temple’s academic advisors and students the visibility they need to stay on track and meet required Fly in 4 milestones, with instant insight into class-registration status, wait lists, transcripts, and financial-aid data.

For example, advisors can use Banner to see checkpoints achieved, providing more personalized advice and direction for current and future semesters. Plus, Fly in 4 advisors can send a quick message to congratulate students on meeting an important checkpoint, remind them to book their required advisory check-in, or suggest registering for summer classes to earn credits needed to advance in class standing.
The academic and retention benefits have been significant. Temple has found that first-year students who sign the Fly in 4 agreement and meet all of their checkpoints earn higher GPAs, complete more credits, and are more likely to return for their sophomore year.

A future filled with on-time graduates

We’ve found that when students are able to tap into resources and support, regularly engage with advisors, and leverage up-to-date Fly to 4 milestone data, they are more academically motivated and stay on track to graduate in four years or less. Temple’s innovative approach to fast-track students’ futures is rapidly gaining momentum and the university expects on-time graduation rates to continue to climb.

It’s an approach that’s easily replicable and scalable at other universities across the country. Students today want to know that their choice of school will give them the tools they need to achieve lifelong success without saddling them with lasting debt.

Related: Here’s how Wayne State nearly doubled its graduation rate in six years

Institutions that can fulfill this mission gain a real recruiting edge while helping students start their careers on firmer footing. The impact is not only felt in the years spent at the institution, but in the decades that follow.

About the Author:

Dr. Jodi Levine Laufgraben is the vice provost for academic affairs, assessment, and institutional research at Temple University.


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