The road to a diploma can be a bumpy one

With December commencement right around the corner, some are celebrating an early graduation, while other super seniors buckle down for another semester in Coral Gables. For most, it’s not a question of if they will get their diploma, but when.

Overall, graduation rates at UM have been on the rise since the 90s. In 1997, 58 percent of the undergraduate class earned their degree in six years or less, while in 2009, 80 percent graduated.

This increase puts UM far above the national average of 55 percent, but also begs the question, how hard is it to graduate from the University of Miami?

“A lot of students don’t finish in four years for whatever reason,” Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc said. “Students who don’t graduate in six years probably won’t.”

According to LeBlanc, the three most common reasons why students at UM don’t finish their degrees are academic, financial and personal struggles. LeBlanc said that the university has been working to address student’s academic and financial issues by using higher academic standards for admission to the university and by providing more specialized financial aid.

But some students without financial or personal burdens find academics at UM easy.

“For general education I purposefully choose easy classes,” said junior Diego Donna, a history and education major. “I had a harder time in high school than I do in college.”

At times, it can even seem as though you would have to go out of your way to fail a class.

“I don’t know how you could fail a class,” said senior Esther Weinbach, an advertising and sociology major.

While UM is above the national average, other prestigious universities have even higher graduation rates. Ivy League schools usually have above 90 percent graduation rate, but according to LeBlanc it’s unfair to compare UM to these institutions because they have outstanding undergraduate academic standards and more financial resources.

“The dramatic improvement has made us look more like the better school in the U.S.,” LeBlanc said. “But the Ivy leagues have always had high graduation rates, they have more resources and smarter students, and that’s obviously not a reasonable expectation for UM right now.”

Other private institutions similar in size and academic achievement to UM still have higher graduation rates than UM. At Vanderbilt University and Boston College, about 90 percent of students graduate.

While UM’s rate might not be as high as these other schools, some say our undergraduates are still impressive.

“I’m mentoring an undergraduate who is simply outstanding. She writes just as well as graduate students,” said Terri Scandura, dean of the graduate school. “The quality of our undergrads has been dramatically improving.”

There’s no doubt that the college experience is different for everyone. For some, the journey to graduation is smooth sailing, but what have they really achieved? Others face tough challenges, but maybe that means their diplomas are worth more at the end.  In the end, students all have the same objective, earning a diploma, and UM clearly shares that goal.

“As an institution we have personally done everything we can to ensure that every student is able to graduate,” LeBlanc said. “It’s been a great source of pride for our university.”

Laura Edwins may be contacted at and Lindsay Brown may be contacted at