Photo by Bethany Morris
According to Institutional Research at Southern Miss, a total of 11,920 undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2018. Among these students, 1,673 were transfers. At four-year institutions like Southern Miss, the words transfer and 5th-year tend to coincide.
Individuals in their fifth year of college may be called other names; super seniors and advanced students are such examples. These students do not complete their degree within the standard four years for a variety of reasons.
“Graduating with a STEM degree and being in the ROTC program made it incredibly difficult to graduate on time,” Jacob Seibert, an IT networking major, said. Seibert graduated this past spring as a 5th-year senior.
“I am a 5th-year senior because of bad advising, and not all of my credits transferring from community college,” Bentley Sills, an elementary education undergraduate, said. Sills plans to graduate in 2021.
“The only frustration I felt was having to play catch-up with some [Mass Communication and Journalism] courses, and that I didn’t take a single class that was specific for my major until my last semester of my junior year,” Jennah Eddins, a senior advertising major, said.
When surveyed, other Southern Miss students answered that many of their problems relate to “bad advising” or “credits not transferring.”
Such stories raise the question: what is Southern Miss, as a university, doing for students who do not graduate in four years?
While 5th-year is a common term, most four-year universities measure graduation rates at either the 4-year or 6-year mark, according to Amy Miller. Miller serves as the Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Southern Miss.
“At USM, our four-year graduation rate hovers around 25%, and our six-year graduation rate is around 50%,” Miller said in an email interview. “These [rates] may seem very low, but they are not unusual for our type of institution.”
Miller said that the national graduation rate for six-year students is at 58% and that it is lower for students who begin their higher education at two-year institutions.
“Internally, we do pay attention to transfer students’ persistence, and we work hard to develop initiatives to engage our transfers and help them get connected to Southern Miss,” Miller said.
One such example is the Transfer Student Association (TSA) on the Hattiesburg campus. Transfer students are also allowed to be involved in the Greek community.
“Many new transfer students don’t feel as important as the incoming freshman,” Ja’Len Husband, president of TSA and a senior Applied Technology major, said. “The Transfer Student Association is a student organization that helps to connect transfer students to one another and assist each other in areas of need at the university level.”
Many students think differently about the level of support at Southern Miss, especially when they are surrounded by the finish in four mantra. The motto encourages undergraduates to complete their bachelor’s degree in no more than four years.
“The finish in four idea dismisses student’s personal lives,” senior marine biology major Jordan Waller said. “What I mean is, say something happens and you need more time. Why should students be shamed for things that are out of their own control?” Waller will graduate in Spring 2020.