Colleges see students staying longer

About 30 percent
of this fall’s freshman class will graduate
in four years.
Monday, August 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Katherine Williams is a senior at MU — again.

She’s not alone. In fact, she’s got plenty of company.

According to statistics published by several public universities across the country, about 30 percent of students entering college this fall will earn a four-year degree within four years. The others either leave school or take more than four years to earn their degrees.

There are a number of reasons students are taking the five- or even six-year route to getting a bachelor’s degree. They range from study abroad programs to dual majors. Other students just can’t decide in which subject to get their major.

Williams knows all about the trouble that comes with changing her course of study. The double major, who began four years ago with her eye set on becoming a journalist, will begin her fifth year of courses at MU this fall. She expects to graduate in December with degrees in finance and real estate.

“I didn’t have the general business classes I needed,” Williams said.

After changing majors, she had to take several courses during her sophomore and junior years — courses other business students had taken their freshman year — just to get up to speed.

Williams’ parents weren’t initially happy about paying for another semester’s tuition.

“They’re OK with it just as long as I graduate this semester because they know I have a reason for it,” Williams said.

Her parents agreed she would be happier as a finance major and would also earn a dual degree.

In November of 2002, ACT, the organization that administers the popular ACT assessment test for high school students, released nationwide collegiate graduation rates. The study examined five-year graduation rates. Surveying 1,450 public and private baccalaureate institutions, ACT found 51 percent of students earned a degree within five years.

ACT statistics show a small decline in the five-year graduation rate during the previous 10 years. In 1992, the nationwide graduation rate was more than 54 percent.

MU keeps statistics on how many students earn their bachelor’s degrees in either four or five years.

For first-time college students who enrolled at MU in 1998, 37.3 percent graduated within four years. Sixty-eight percent of that class graduated within five years. The remainder of the 1998 incoming class either withdrew from the university before graduation or did not graduate within five years.

This isn’t a new trend and it’s not only happening at MU.

Other universities, which MU considers its peer universities, show similar statistics.

For the matriculated class of 1998, North Carolina State University graduated 29.7 percent in four years or less, the University of Kentucky graduated 27.9 percent, and Iowa State University graduated 29.2 percent.

The good news for tuition weary parents is that schools are increasingly introducing programs to help students graduate in four years. These programs seem to be working. University statistics show the number of students graduating in four years or less is slowly but steadily growing.

Iowa State University calls their program Soar in 4 and the University of California-Davis has a program called Finish in Four.

While policies and strategies vary from school to school, the key to each of these programs is the same — plan ahead and utilize advising services.

Williams is uncomfortable with the stigma that is attached to taking more than four years to get a degree.

“People think you are slow or stupid or something,” she said.

When Williams tells people she’s graduating in December, they ask why.

“I try to avoid telling people,” Williams said.

She hates having to justify it and making excuses.

While other people might look down on Williams for not graduating in four years, she doesn’t think it’s a big deal. She even thinks it might help her find a job.

“I think there will be more jobs out there (in December) or at least less competition,” she said.

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