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The University of Iowa's four- and six-year graduation rates are on the decline, according to new data from the Board of Regents, while Iowa State University saw improvements in both categories.
Still, UI's four-year graduation rate of 52.8 percent - while down from last year's 54 percent - remains highest among the three public universities, with ISU reporting an improved 46.1 percent rate, and University of Northern Iowa reporting a flat 40 percent.
The new board report shows Iowa State's six-year graduation rate rose from 71.4 percent to 74.3 percent, according to the most recent data available, surpassing for the first time since 2006 the UI rate - which dropped slightly from 72.1 percent to 71.8 percent.
UNI also reported a drop in its six-year graduation rate, from 67.6 percent to 65 percent, according to the board report.
But all three universities reported improvements in first-year retention rates - the rate at which entering students return for a second year.
Iowa State, according to the new data, reported an 88.1 percent one-year retention rate - the highest any of the three schools have recorded in the past decade. UI reported an increase from 85.4 percent to 87.1 percent and UNI reported the biggest jump from 80.1 percent to nearly 86 percent.
University officials cite those statistics often, including when advocating for more state support, speaking publicly about campus achievements or pointing to efforts to reduce student debt. Several years ago, the Board of Regents even proposed a new funding model that would have linked graduation and retention rates to state appropriations - although lawmakers rejected that proposal.
And UI officials have pointed out that comparing one-year retention rates is not comparing apples to apples due to variances in the universities' academic probation policies.
Iowa State, for example, lets students earn a grade-point average below 2.0 for three semesters before dismissal, while UI dismisses students for subpar performance after two semesters, according to the school policies. UNI, like UI, dismisses students for poor performance after two semesters - unless they're in their first semester, and then they get three semesters before suspension.
Despite those variances and ebbs and flows in the rates, Iowa's public universities together consistently perform above the national average. The Board of Regents' one-year retention average of 86.6 percent tops the national average of 78.6 percent for all public four-year institutions.
Its average six-year graduation rate of 71.6 percent exceeds the national average of 56.8 percent, according to the new board report, while the regents' average four-year graduation rate of 47.8 percent is above the national rate of 33.6 percent.
It also tracks graduation rates by type of student, and although graduation and retention rates for minority students continue to be lower than nonminority rates, the average six-year graduation rate for that population increased 8.5 percent in the last year.
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