Published: June 1, 2014

illustration of Phil DiStefano

The Graduates

Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano discusses how he is working to help students succeed and finish their degrees in a timely manner.

You talk a lot about your priorities for helping students succeed. Can you elaborate?

College is hard. And it should be. Few realize our incoming class has more than 1,300 students with a 4.0 high-school grade-point average or higher, or that more than 1,700 were in the top 25 percent of their high school class. The standard for success is very high.

We want to retain our freshmen students, so that they are well prepared to return for their sophomore year. And we must support our students in their persistence to complete their degrees in a timely fashion.

How are you doing this?

We piloted a popular faculty mentorship program with 500 freshmen and 100 faculty this year that we are enhancing for the upcoming year. We’re also making preliminary plans for big improvements in advising to help students transfer seamlessly between colleges or majors.

CU-Boulder’s six-year graduation rate is one of the best in the state, along with the Colorado School of Mines, at 68 percent. You want to increase it to 80 percent by 2020. Why?

The six-year graduation rate nationally is 57 percent for public universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. When students graduate in six years or less, it saves them and their families money and helps our next generation of business and government leaders, scientists, teachers and artists into the workforce sooner, contributing to the economy. We want to do everything we can to maximize students’ returns on their investment while lowering their education costs.

Today’s 68 percent graduation rate might sound low, even if it compares very well nationally and statewide.

You have to keep in mind we don’t get credit for students who begin as part-time students or who transfer either in or out of the university. Institutions only get credit for  students who begin and end at the same institution. Federal reporting data renders a large segment of the student population invisible in these statistics. While I’m pleased we compare very favorably to most of our peers, we can do better.

Why is six years the national standard for graduation rates?

The 1990 Student Right to Know Act directed post-secondary institutions to report the percentage of students that complete their program within 150 percent of the normal time for completion, which is six years for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Read Chancellor DiStefano’s Spring Campus Address at

Illustration by Melinda Josie