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Delayed graduation: Are students at four year colleges actually graduating in four years?

by AirTalk®

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Graduates cheer after US President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of California Irvine in Irvine, California, June 14, 2014. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Major colleges and universities in the U.S. are often called four-year colleges because that has always been the amount of time it takes most students to accumulate enough credits to graduate. For community colleges, the accepted standard is two years. But can we still say that is the standard for higher education in 2015? Some critics are saying that current college graduation rates aren’t telling the whole story about how long it’s really taking students to graduate. They also say that the amount of attention paid to earning degrees on time isn’t realistic at schools like California State University, the largest public system in the U.S., where many students are going to school while also working and taking care of families.

It’s no secret that students who graduate in four years or less save money and free up space for more students to enroll. But some say that the graduation rates aren’t an accurate way to measure campus performance, and that using them to determine allocation for funding would be a bad idea. According to a recent study done by the non-profit Complete College America, only 19 percent of students nationally graduate in four years at most public universities, and those students are taking an average of 13.5 more credit hours than necessary to graduate. At highly-rated flagship research universities, only 36 percent of students graduate on time and they’re taking an average of 14.6 more credit hours than necessary to graduate.

Students at the public universities are taking, on average, 13.5 more credit hours than is required to graduate The report also says it costs students almost $23,000 extra for every extra year at a public four-year college, and that number increased to over $68,000 when you factor in wages that could have been earned if the student had graduated on time.

Do you think graduation rates are telling the whole story when it comes to campus performance? Are there other, more accurate methods of measuring how students are really performing at colleges and universities when the two-year or four-year model is no longer the norm?


Timothy White, Chancellor of the California State University system

Tom Sugar, senior vice president of Complete College America, a national nonprofit that works with states to increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. The group authored a study called ‘The Four Year Myth,’ which examines why students at four year colleges are taking longer than four years to graduate and how it can be fixed.

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