The Bookbyte Blog
Is Graduating in 4 Years a Fantasy?
They're called "4-year universities" for a reason, right? Then why are more and more students finding it takes them five, six, sometimes seven years to earn their bachelor's degree? Worse, many students aren't even making it to graduation day.
From the start, students are set on a path to earn their degree in at least five years from the advice of their counselors. Since many financial aid and grant programs only cover the cost of 12 credit hours per semester, it seems like good advice - until you realize students need to be taking a minimum of 15 credits per semester in order to graduate inside of four years. Add in a change of major, a loss of credits from a community college transfer, a scarcity of available classes, a choice to gain a minor or double major, and a graduation date in less than six years becomes a pipe dream.
The shortage of available classes is a huge detriment to students being able to graduate on time. When a university only offers a prerequisite class once a year, what options does a student have but to wait and fill in their schedule with classes that don't meet their major requirements?
What is it costing to stay in school? According to the Campaign for College Opportunity, every additional year of enrollment in college increases the total cost by more than $26,000 in tuition, fees, books, and living expenses, plus more than $22,000 in lost lifetime wages. A CSU student who takes six years to earn a bachelor's degree will spend an additional $58,000 more on tuition, fees, books, and other expenses than someone who graduated in four years. As a result of these additional two years, this student will incur $110,900 in extra expenses and lost wages. These consequences are being seen nationwide.
All of this means only 32% of public college students will graduate within four years. And as the cost of college grows each year, so does the dropout rate. It's hard to get an accurate number when so many students fall into a category of leaving college to save money for another semester, never to return.
Some colleges are taking a proactive step to help their students. Portland State University, for instance, began offering a 4-year bachelor's degree guarantee in which students who agree to take 15 credits per term, uphold good academic standing, and take required courses for their major will graduate on time, or not be charged for any tuition while taking remaining courses. See the full list of schools joining in with the "15 to Finish" campaign by clicking here.
It's exasperating to read articles where the "laziness" of students is brought up as a legitimate reason for late graduation dates. I remember my own feelings of defeat and frustration each time June came around and I was not a member of the graduating class. And I was not alone - the archetype of the carefree, apathetic college student did not apply to my friends and classmates. Most of the students I knew were working part-time jobs and taking 15-20 units a semester in an effort to graduate so they could start their careers (and stop accruing debt) as soon as possible.
As a student, you can't control all of the factors that act as barriers to your graduation date, but there are some things you can do:
- Meet regularly with academic advisers and develop a clear plan for graduation.
- Try signing up for at least 15 credits per semester. (Not always possible due to work and family obligations.)
- Try not to change your major after your freshman year - you're just adding more college classes to your regimen.
- Take classes when they are available to you, even if they mess up your personal life. If a math class meets three days a week at 7:30am, bite the bullet and get in there - you don't know when it may be offered again!
- Write to your congressman and let him or her know the reality you are facing. Getting someone with influence to understand your challenges is a step in the right direction.
What will help students the most is letting go of the 4-year graduation ideal - for now. Do everything you can to reach the quickest route to graduation, but know that it might take a bit longer to finish. Don't let yourself feel inadequate for taking longer. Believe me - I'm a six-year graduate.