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Clayton State seeks to boost graduation rates

By Greg Gelpi

Graduation rates at Clayton College & State University are below the state average, and the state average is below the national average, but school officials are working to reverse the trend.

Clayton State Associate Provost James Mackin said the low graduation rates in the state are to be expected, problem areas have been identified and work is being done to address the issue.

According to Education Trust, about 13.4 percent of all Clayton State students starting in 1997 graduated from the university within six years. The graduation rate is worse among males and minorities.

"It's an interesting sort of observation and should be expected," Mackin said.

College is more "accessible" in Georgia as compared with other states, Mackin said. The result is a "higher percentage of the citizenry" going to college, but a lower rate actually graduating from college.

To counter this trend, Mackin said Clayton State and the University System of Georgia as a whole are working to better prepare high school students for entering college.

Clayton State freshman Chris Howard, 20, agreed with Mackin, saying that he didn't feel prepared for the workload of college.

"I don't really think you're prepared in high school for college," Howard said. "I think in high school you're spoon fed."

College requires much more initiative on the part of a student, he said.

Mackin said Clayton State has partnered with Clayton County Public Schools to boost college graduation rates. The program will allow high school students to earn up to two years of college credit while still in high school.

"There is a correlation between students who come in well prepared and those who graduate," Mackin said, pointing to the high graduation rates at Ivy League schools such as Harvard.

Clayton State is also addressing the problem through its teacher education program, he said. By better preparing teachers, the university is better preparing the next wave of college students.

The study of the six-year graduation rates come at an "unfortunate" time, Mackin said. In 1997, the university made sweeping changes, including moving from a quarter system to a semester system, which impacted graduation rates. The six-year graduation rates for 1998 showed improvement, moving up to 15 percent. About 22 percent of students, who started in 1998, graduated from Clayton State or another university within the state university system.

The Education Trust, a Washington D.C. nonprofit group, published a Web site with graduation data and data that compares similar universities at www.collegeresults.org.

At 16 of the state's 18 four-year state colleges, fewer than half of the students graduated after six years. And six schools graduate fewer than a quarter of their students, according to research by Education Trust.

Only the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech had six-year graduation rates exceeding the national average of 63 percent.

But state officials say the numbers are misleading because they do not reflect tougher college admissions criteria phased in between 1998 and 2001. The criteria increased minimum SAT scores for admission to most Georgia schools and required students to take more college preparatory courses in high school.

Other factors affect graduation rates, Clayton State freshmen Michael Sloan and Erica Ray, both of Atlanta, said.

Sloan pointed to a "lack of focus" by some students with school work competing with a social life.

"It's probably not as bad as other schools, but college is college," he said.

Ray said that financial reasons hinder and prevent many from graduating. Juggling a job and school work can prove too much for some.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.