/ Modified jul 16, 2012 12:35 p.m.

AZ Week: Conversation with UA's New President

Ann Weaver Hart on grad rates, finance, community ties

University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart says she wants to drive up the graduation rate by helping students return to the idea of a four-year college education.

The UA's graduation rate now is 61.4 percent, which Hart said in an interview for Friday’s Arizona Week broadcast is not good enough.

It should move to 65 percent in five years and climb higher after that as part of the 2020 targets set for all Arizona public universities by the Board of Regents, she said.

“I think we should set a goal within five years of 65 percent,” said Hart, who began work as the UA's 21st president and its first female president on Monday. “We’ve set in our 2020 enterprise plans with (the Board of Regents) to increase our graduation rates at all of our sister institutions.”

Hart said a big challenge is in guiding students toward the idea of spending less time in school. One way to do that is showing them that it also would mean spending less money.

“You can borrow money and get a fully guaranteed student loan and only register for 12 semester-hours,” she said. “You cannot graduate in four years by registering for 12 semester-hours. So we need to help our students plan those four years … to be more careful and discriminating consumers, but also to see this as a part of their future.

“You will pay less for your college education if you graduate in four years,” she said.

Hart said that in her previous presidency, at Temple University in Philadelphia, she helped lead a rise in the graduation rate from the low 50s to 67 percent by focusing on formal advising of students and by making an issue of time spent in school.

“It isn’t simply a matter of being very young and not being in a hurry,” she says. “It really is a matter of helping you be successful.”

At Temple, eight-semester plans were built for students in all majors, and “we emphasized over and over again to students that it would cost them less to graduate more quickly.”

Other topics Hart touched on in a 30-minute interview:

-- The university must maintain and expand on its world-class status as a research university by recruiting and retaining top faculty and graduate students.

-- More public-private partnerships, technology transfers and other creative financing means will be needed to keep public universities viable in the face of reduced state funding.

-- The DREAM Act “can be applied very, very successfully … especially in cultures like ours, where there is a large proportion of young people who have shown their commitment to our country and to their contribution to our economy and culture.”

-- Community outreach is important for her, something she did at Temple in Philadelphia. How that will go in Tucson, she said, remains to be seen. “I look forward to learning what the key issues here in Tucson are. … “

-- “… One of the most important roles a president has to fill in a public university” is relations with the governor and state Legislature, Hart said. She noted she already has met with Gov. Jan Brewer and is looking forward to working with legislative leaders.

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