I am responding to the July 7 letter to the editor by Perry H. Clark ( “University System overhaul a necessity and here’s why”). In his letter, Mr. Clark purports that a low graduation rate of 32.9 percent at the University of Southern Maine indicates that “higher education is barely being provided.” Mr. Clark has misused a singular statistic to draw a false conclusion.

Universities are required to report the percentage of matriculating freshmen who eventually graduate within six years. But, at USM, students who are described by that category are actually a minority of the student body. In fact, typically each year more students transfer in after beginning their higher education at another institution than begin as freshmen. There is also a large number of “non-traditional” students who, while balancing full-time jobs and family responsibilities, take more than six years to finish their degrees. When students in both of those large categories graduate, their numbers (by definition) cannot be included in the calculation of that graduation rate statistic used by Mr. Clark. While the average USM class of entering freshmen averages about 800, USM awarded 1,317 bachelors degrees in May. It also awarded 442 masters degrees and 10 Ph.Ds. I am sure that none of these degree recipients would agree that their education had been “barely … provided.”

In fact, USM is a valuable resource to thousands of students seeking to improve themselves and is a vital economic engine in our region. It offers both degree programs and non-degree professional development courses. It provides a Student Success Center, learning communities, and meaningful internships to enrich and support students’ studies. Some programs at USM are in such demand they have many more qualified applicants than can be accepted. Mr. Clark should have looked more deeply than a single statistic to learn the truth.

Robert Blackwood

South Portland