SALT LAKE CITY -- Nearly half of the college students at four of Utah's universities do not graduate college in six years, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
The report gave pause to legislative leaders, who wondered if steps should be taken to encourage more students to enroll instead at community colleges or technical schools.
The University of Utah had the state's highest graduation rate at 58 percent, but ranked quite low when compared to similar schools around the country. Utah ranked 20th among 22 research-intensive schools and competitive admission standards nationwide and was the third-lowest in the Pac-12 conference.
Utah State University, on the other hand, had a 55 percent graduation rate but did quite well when compared to other universities with a similar research budget and admission standards.
Weber State University and Southern Utah University both had 43 percent graduation rates, which auditors said should be improved but were not greatly out of line with universities that admit almost all of their applicants.
But even if they match comparable schools elsewhere, those numbers are still too low, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said.
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable saying that I'm going to settle for a 43 percent graduation rate," Waddoups said. "It just seems to me like we should expect more."
To improve the graduation rates, auditors recommended that schools charge additional fees for students that exceed the number of credit hours required for graduation and institute stronger admission standards at Utah.
The audit findings were not disputed by higher-education officials, who said they are working on a plan that will better tailor post-secondary education to a student's needs. That could mean more students choosing to attend community colleges before working on a bachelor's degree or pursuing a trade certification through the state's technical schools, said Commissioner William Sederburg.
"We're really into this issue of trying to get more students ready for college and then making sure they are more successful in college," Sederburg said.
The state does have a unique challenge because many 19-year-old men go on a two-year religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sederburg said. Many missionaries also start having families at a younger age and work full-time while attending school.