When The New York Times reported last week that only 19% of public college and university students receive their undergraduate degree within four years, it was not a surprise to me. The federal government “stat” for time to a degree is actually six years and has been for more than a decade. This figure is in recognition that most students don’t graduate in four years, a reality for nearly a generation of students. It is worth noting that private colleges were not included in the Complete College America study, and one of their selling points is personalized attention that leads to a quicker run to graduation.
Some of the reasons for this elongated time to degree are:
- There is a push for everyone to go to college and some students simply aren’t academically ready, leading them to spend much of their initial class time in remediation, rather than advancing on a path to a degree.
- There are three ways to pay for college – before, during and after. Since most families don’t save for college, and worry about debt, they scrape together funds in real-time and find themselves in a financial bind, leading dependent students or young independent adults to drop out in high numbers.
- Many students choose a college that isn’t right for them. When they transfer, they lose credits, stretching out their time to a degree. My own son transferred from one Virginia public university to another, and he had to go in and lobby (with syllabi from classes taken) as to why his entire set of credits should transfer.
In subsequent columns, we will delve deeper into to this time to a degree issue. Suffice to say for now that it underscores how important it is to pick the right school to begin with during the initial college search process. And the right way to do that is to start with a plan.