After students leave, if they have trouble making enough money and default on student loans, the chances of their returning to finish school drops to single digits, he said.
"A part of the message we're trying to send is that we expect you to graduate," he said. "If you are good enough for us to admit you, you're good enough to graduate."
And, for full-time students, Hemphill believes you should finish a four-year degree in four years.
He seems to be about the only one to think so. The state and feds don't even evaluate graduation rates based on four years anymore. They measure it by six years.
So, of the freshmen who entered State in 2006, only 17.9 percent of them finished a bachelor's degree at some public institution in West Virginia within six years, according to the Higher Education Policy Commission. And that number has been falling.
Overall, six-year college graduation rates in West Virginia are pretty pathetic -- 47.5 percent statewide, with the highest just 55.8 percent at WVU. There can be good reasons for students taking more than four years to finish. Students may need to work at the same time to support themselves or their families, for example. But not always.
And the longer students take to finish their degrees, the less likely they are to finish, Hemphill said.
West Virginia State University is one of the Kanawha Valley's real gems. Plenty of people will be glad to see Hemphill lean into the effort to turn these numbers around.
Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at d...@wvgazette.com.