Many Students Take More Than 4 Years to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

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If public universities were graded on the number of full-time students they graduated on time (within four years), most of them would fail.

According to a new report from Complete College America, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, at most public universities, a meager 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Even at state flagship universities, just 36 percent of students graduate on time.

In fact, it’s so common for students to exceed the standard time allotted for a two-year or four-year degree that education policy experts often use benchmarks of six years for a bachelor’s degree and three years to earn an associate degree.

According to the report, time is money. It says:

Metrics like these are unacceptable, especially when we consider that students and their families are trying desperately to control the skyrocketing costs of higher education. As lifetime savings are depleted and financial aid packages run out, the extra time on campus means even more debt, and for far too many students, additional semesters do not result in a degree or credential.

Taking longer to graduate is costing students and their families big bucks. Each additional year at a public two-year college costs $15,933, and at a four-year college, students have to pony up an extra $22,826 a year, the report said.

“The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long, and graduates too few,” the report said.

So why are students taking longer to graduate? “Reasons why college takes so long include not being able to register for needed courses, credits lost when transferring between schools, not taking enough credits per semester and ineffective remedial classes,” The Tribune-Review said.

The report said creating a more streamlined route to graduation would help a number of students. “Offering more sections of core classes, accepting transfer credits or simply monitoring students’ course loads are just some of the strategies colleges could use to increase on-time graduation,” The Washington Post said.

According to The New York Times, some education experts are concerned that the Complete College America report doesn’t tell the full story. The Times wrote:

“They’re too focused on efficiency and not enough on quality,” said Debra Humphreys, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Yes, we have a huge completion problem, but we also have a problem that a lot of students graduated without learning what they need.”

I worked as a peer adviser in college, helping students understand the requirements of both the university and their particular major and to plan their course schedules. That experience proved to be helpful in my own course scheduling, and I was able to earn my bachelor’s degree in four years.

What do you think of Complete College America’s report? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

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