Claremore Daily Progress

January 26, 2014

RSU finding it’s the place to be

Ranked nationally for least amount of student debt, highest in state for retention rates

Mark Friedel
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

With an average student loan debt lower than both state and national averages, Rogers State University has been ranked nationally among colleges and universities with the lightest debt loads incurred by graduates, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 Best Colleges report released earlier this month.
The data includes loans taken out by students from the university, private financial institutions and federal, state and local governments. Loans to parents were not included.
According to the report, in 2012, 45 percent of RSU graduates owed money with an average debt amount of $19,019. Among last year’s graduating class, one-third were able to attain their degrees without taking out any student loans.
“University staff works closely with students to encourage them to be fiscally responsible if they decide to take out student loans,” said RSU President Dr. Larry Rice. 
Total state aid for public colleges and universities declined from $72.7 billion in 2011-12 to $72 billion in 2012-13, down approximately one percent.
According to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education 2013 Tuition Impact Analysis Report, since 2007, state funding has declined by 19 percent from $88.7 billion in 2007-08, causing an increase in tuition for Oklahoma public colleges and universities. Declines are based on a weak economy, as well as, growth occurring during periods of economic strength.
According to the report, average national tuition rates for higher education in 2013 were $8,893, while Oklahoma tuition rates averaged to be about $5,623.
A decline in state aid and increase in tuition has impacted RSU students paying for their education. 
State funding used to cover about 70 percent of RSU’s operating costs, but has recently dropped below 50 percent. Tuition and fees now make up the largest funding source for RSU. 
“Even with tuition increase, Rogers State University remains an affordable option for students,” said Rice.
RSU’s tuition and fees are less than national and state averages for a public four-year university, estimated to be about $2,512 per semester, and $5,144 per year, according to the university’s website. 
After Rogers University transitioned into Rogers State University in 1999, the university was designated to provide both bachelor’s degrees and associates degrees. The University of Central Oklahoma, Cameron University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University are the only other regional universities in Oklahoma that offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. 
In 2011, 276 students graduated from RSU with associate degrees.
Since the school was first created as a regional university, a large increase occurred in the amount of four-year degrees earned, from 10 bachelor’s degrees in 2002 to 337 awarded at the end of the 2013 spring semester, said RSU Public Relations Director David Hamby. In the past three years, RSU has seen the number of bachelor’s degrees exceed the number of associate’s.
Graduation rates are drawn from RSU’s entries for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the United State’s primary source for data on higher education. IPEDS data focuses on success rates for first-time, full-time freshman seeking bachelor’s degrees.
Of the more than 800 freshman entering RSU last fall, about 29 percent were part of the IPEDS cohort. The IPEDS cohort entering in fall 2012 represented approximately five percent of the entire student body.
A total of seven cohort studies have been conducted in regards to a six-year graduation rate for RSU. Each successive cohort since 2004 has displayed an increased success rate, with the 2005 cohort achieving a 23 percent six-year graduation rate.
RSU continues to attract larger numbers of dedicated students committed to earning a four-year degree. This is noted by the university’s increase in retention rates, which is measured by the percentage of first-time freshman students who are enrolled for the fall semester of their sophomore year, and seeking baccalaureate degrees. 
Retention rates have climbed from 46 percent in 2004-05, to 64 percent in 2011-12, and are among the highest for Oklahoma regional colleges. 
Data shows RSU students generally take longer than six years — and often upwards of eight years — to complete school. Many RSU students are enrolled only part-time after their freshman year due to work and family constraints. 
More than 70 percent of RSU students work, with the majority of them working 21-30 hours per week.
Hamby said the university has made significant strides to lower its current default rate of 18.2 percent. Default rates are based on the number of students who took out student loans, and have fallen behind on their monthly payments.
He said RSU representatives are projecting that the next annual two-year default rate will drop to 11 percent, which represents a nearly one-third drop when comparing two-year default rates for fiscal year 2009 and 2011. 
These default rates would place RSU below its Oklahoma regional peer universities.