DES MOINES - Iowa's three public universities are still missing target graduation rates, but the numbers have shown improvement, according to a report released Thursday.
The Des Moines Register reported that fewer than half of the students at the three schools finish in four years, although the rates have been rising in recent years.
The annual report for the Iowa Board of Regents said Iowa's universities have graduation rates above the national average.
Iowa State University has a 39.5 percent four-year graduation rate, nearly 2 points shy of its goal. The University of Northern Iowa, at 37.8 percent, is less than a percentage point away from its goal of 38.4 percent.
The University of Iowa's current rate is just short of its goal of 48.3 percent.
The regents want each university to achieve its goal by 2016.
The universities have tried to increase graduation rates by starting programs to reduce dropouts, analyzing individual student progress and making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges.
"We are putting significant effort into retention, making sure our students graduate on time, and closing the (minority achievement) gap," U of I Provost Barry Butler said.
There has been pressure nationally to raise graduation rates as part of an effort to produce more college graduates, but some students said they prefer to remain in school more than four years so they can pursue options such as internships and study abroad programs. Some in demanding majors, such as engineering, sometimes need extra time.
Jonathan Krupko, said he's glad he opted to remain at the University of Iowa for an extra year, which allowed him to spend a year in Japan. Krupko, 22, said his finance degree will be more valuable when coupled with his foreign language skills.
"The year in Japan was probably the best decision I made," said Krupko, originally from Des Moines. "It got me to see a different perspective in the world."
Jordan Bancroft-Smithe, 23, also decided to stay an extra year at the University of Northern Iowa so he could spend time in Greece and work toward his double major in music and philosophy.