The reasons behind SSU’s low graduation rates

Shawnee State University has a graduation rate of 30 percent, among the lowest in Ohio public colleges. University officials say these figures are misleading and do not tell the whole story. Courtesy of Shawnee State University.

PORTSMOUTH — According to data from the United States Department of Education, Shawnee State University has a graduation rate of 30 percent.

The rate, measured by the proportion of graduated students from within their first eight years of entering this school for the first time, is near the bottom among public colleges in the state with Ohio State and Miami University leading the way.

SSU executive director of marketing and communications Elizabeth Blevins said the university is actively trying to improve the percentage, but also that it does not apply the same way to each university. What complicates this statistic is SSU’s standing as an open access institution, one of two along with Central State University in the state.

As an open access university, SSU looks to serve an under-represented population by not having a minimum criteria for ACT or SAT scores and accepting at least 80% of applicants. Students with lower test scores are required to enroll in the university’s Bridge to Success, a seven-week summer developmental program with English, Reading and Mathematics courses available. Blevins says these courses prepare accepted students for a college curriculum.

Many students use Shawnee State as a steppingstone in their education, pursuing two-year associate degrees before heading elsewhere to receive their bachelor’s degree. Blevins said approximately one-third of the university’s degrees throughout the past five years have been associate’s degrees and are not included in SSU’s graduation rate.

Students’ changes to their education plans, whether that be switching from a bachelor’s degree to an associate’s or vice versa; transferring into or from SSU, also are not accounted for in the measure.

“It’s really a combination of all those things,” said Blevins, as to the primary reasons for SSU’s graduation rates. “Given all that, our completion rate is improving.”

The results of past educational policies contribute to the current graduation rate, which Blevins said the university has updated and will see a positive trend moving forward. A better measure for the university is its retention rates, a measure of first-time, full-time students returning for their second year, she said, which can be seen presently and is showing progress.

“We’re really proud of our retention rate and how it compares to other open access institutions,” said Blevins, as SSU’s retention rate has improved from around 59% in 2013 to 72%.

This rate is above the national average for four-year schools with open admission, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, which stood at 62.8 percent from 2017 to 2018. Central State, Ohio’s other open access university, has a retention rate of 50 percent.

Shawnee State will start the fall semester Aug. 24 with precautions in place due to the coronavirus.

Reach Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.