Only a little over half of undergraduate students complete their degrees in six years, according to a study conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The study found that just 54.1 percent of students who enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2006 actually graduated within six years. Of the remaining students, 16.1 percent were still continuing their education while 29.8 percent of students had dropped out. Generally, states on the East Coast (especially in the Northeast) and states on the West Coast had the highest completion rates in both public and private universities. In the Midwest, Illinois and Minnesota had the higher completion rates.
Gabby Kashtelian, a senior at Boston University graduating with a degree in journalism and philosophy, said she took summer classes and overloaded so that she could graduate in three years and save money. “I think that schools should focus more on their students than taking their money,” Kashtelian said. “Coming out of high school, students assume they have to immediately go to college but don’t know much else about it. Suddenly, they’re boggled down with pressure, work and responsibilities.”
The study looked at both students who are classified as “traditional” undergrads – 24 years old or younger – and “nontraditional.” Though both groups had many students dropping out or taking at least six years to graduate, the degree completion times for nontraditional students were longer than those for traditional students.
Kashtelian said that perhaps if more students took a year or semester off before entering college, they might have a better idea of what they want and would therefore not spend so much time trying to earn a degree. “College is a different world than everything before it and not everyone can handle being thrown into that kind of world,” she said.
Some students, however, are okay with not graduating in the typical four years. “This is my 5th year and I think that was the perfect amount of time for me to finish my undergraduate career,” said Sophia Brown, a senior at Lesley University studying English. “It gave me more time to explore things I was interested and I was also able to pick up a minor.”
Brown said she understands that rising tuition costs are often what force people to prolong their education or drop out altogether. “It gets tricky with tuition. It makes sense that less people are graduating in that time and it sucks to have to transfer or leave for that reason. But I guess that’s what you have to do sometimes,” Brown said.
The New York Times also reported that although the study’s statistics may be skewed by part-time students who would naturally take longer to complete their degrees, the completion rates for full-time students by themselves follow the same pattern. One in five students who enrolled full-time in four-year public universities in 2006 did not graduate within six years. One in seven full-time students at private universities also did not graduate in that amount of time.
According to Brown, these numbers suggest that we may need to rethink how we approach the idea of college. “It’s not to say that I’m proud of taking five years to graduate instead of the usual four, but I think that there’s too big of an emphasis on the ‘four year plan,’” she said.
Photos from blog.hiredmyway.com and csmonitor.com