Thursday, September 22, 2022

Why does it take students six years to complete a four-year degree?

 In the early 90s, I was program director for a specially-designed higher education institute at Louisiana State University. I designed the program for senior-level Chinese college administrators. In my hubris, I wanted to introduce my Asian audience to American higher education--the envy of the world.

One of the LSU presenters, an enrollment-management specialist, said that LSU's six-year graduation rate for bachelor's degrees was about fifty percent. The university had a plan, the speaker told the audience, to get the six-year rate up to 60 percent.

I'll never forget the collective gasp that came from the Chinese administrators. One of them spoke up. In China, he said, the four-year graduation rate was 95 percent--about twice as high as LSU's four-year rate. I realized right then that LSU had nothing valuable to teach the Chinese. And I also knew that the Chinese had discovered that too. 

Why the hell does it take so many American college students six years to get a four-year college degree? After all, that's not their expectation. As a Hechinger Report article pointed out, ninety percent of college freshmen believe they will finish college in four years. The reality, however, is that less than half of college students will get their bachelor's degree in four years.

Some commentators speculate that colleges are moving the finish line for graduation to collect more tuition. There may be some truth to that. After all, American universities now measure their completion rates based on six years of enrollment, not four. By adding more course requirements and bureaucratic red tape, the colleges have made it more difficult for students to plan a schedule that will get them a bachelor's degree in four years.

Nevertheless, other factors are in play that help explain why it takes millions of Americans six years to get a bachelor's degree. Thanks to the federal student-loan program, students can finance not only their tuition with borrowed money but they can also pay their living expenses as well.

Low-income students qualify for Pell grants--up to almost $6,500 a year.  Louisiana also doles out so-called TOPS awards to students with good high school GPAs and ACT scores. However, the qualifications are meager; a kid with a 2.5 GPA and an ACT score of only 20 qualifies for a TOPS scholarship.

And a college student may pick up additional scholarships or grant money. In case you haven't heard, universities are emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, and students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds might qualify for targeted financial assistance.

In fact, many young people can put together financial packages that allow them to live quite comfortably as college students--perhaps better than they lived at home when they were in high school.  

Using student-loan funds, Pell Grant money, and other financial aid, students can move into luxury student apartments, dine out in restaurants, and maybe even put a downpayment down on a car.

In short, many students are "living their best lives" while in college. If so, why would they want to leave a campus environment, go to work, and start paying off their student loans? Why not stretch out their college career from four years to six?


Luxury student housing: Why graduate and go to work?









1 comment:

  1. Colleges have also watered down their curriculum offerings to "Promote Retention," or to prevent unqualified students from flunking out immediately. Some students get swirled around in sub-remedial shlock classes until they choose a major, and discover they haven't taken any of the pre-reqs and essentially have to start over.

    ReplyDelete