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The United States is slipping in terms of college participation and degree completion, a report by the National Center for Public Policy on Higher Education released in September shows. This means fewer students are going to college and more are dropping out once they get there. Though these problems aren’t prevalent at UVA, the University does have a unique tactic to ensure students stay on schedule and graduate on time—they put an eight-semester cap on undergraduate majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, the school with the highest enrollment.
    “It’s very unconventional, and it’s one of the keys to our success,” says Richard Handler, an assistant Arts and Sciences dean.
    As a result, 84 percent of UVA undergraduates finish in four years.
    The eight-semester-or-bust policy came about in the 1970s, Handler says, although it didn’t have to do with women being introduced to the University in 1970. Rather, the policy’s gone a long way to abolish the so-called “Gentleman’s C,” a stigma of academic underachievement at UVA.
    “Administrators of the College got tired of kids coming up here and taking their time and playing and not getting through. The way we think of it now, the way we justify it in our minds is that a UVA education is a very scarce resource, and people have to make good use of it,” Handler says.
    “We actually review the transcript of every College student. We catch any problems. The College invests a lot of money in this kind of academic advising.”
    For schools without those resources, the national assessment reported recently might be more damning. The report said U.S. schools are losing ground on the world stage: The U.S. has not made significant progress since the 1990s in college participation, and college is becoming less affordable. College participation is also stagnant: Only 17 out of 100 Americans enrolled in college finishes a degree, which means any college education is a scarce resource indeed.

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