Graduate in four years? Yeah, right.

  • Article by: Richard Vedder , Bloomberg News
  • Updated: May 22, 2013 - 12:59 PM

For the college students who will be paying for a four-year bachelor’s degree long after graduation day, here’s some consolation: At least it didn’t take you six or eight years.

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endothermMay. 22, 13 1:20 PM

Though I agree about the hidden costs of going to school longer, the four-year graduation target just doesn't match reality for many of today's college students. Why? 1. A lot more people are going to college now than in the past, and these students often take classes while working full time and/or trying to raise families. Expecting them to live in the dorms, take classes full time and get in and out in four years is just not going to work. 2. Many students start college without really being prepared for it, partly due to immaturity and partly due to trouble with our primary school system. So, when they do arrive, they have to take a bunch of catch-up remedial classes. This can add years to their time in school. But I think we need to protect the quality of the education rather than just rushing people through to meet an arbitrary four-year time frame. Students and schools should be evaluated based on their education and their skills, not how many years were involved.

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FrankLMay. 22, 13 2:09 PM

Most of this is due to bad management at the state schools. Having kids in college I have noted that key prerequisite courses not only are completely full (why not add more sections?), but there is also a subtle bias to prevent students from taking them. For example, one key course for my daughter was held at an odd time, every other course began and ended on the hour, but this one was off by 15 minutes, thus precluding two other course slots. The same course was offered in the summer session, but was the only course that required the student to be on campus 5 days a week for 90 minutes during the middle of each day. Other similar courses had a mix of in class and on-line sessions. Seems like it was designed to discourage students who needed a full-time job during the summer. I believe these things are deliberate policy choices designed to get a student to have to spend an extra year of tuition. What ends up happening is that the students fill their extra course load with non-core courses, which ends up making non-essential departments look better because their courses are filled.

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gandalf48May. 22, 13 2:21 PM

Some degrees are nearly impossible to obtain within 4 years (most engineering degrees). We always hear about the shortage of engineers, well perhaps schools need to keep that in mind when setting up the lib ed requirements for all majors...allow a few less lib ed requirements for degrees in the hard sciences where each and every class has to count for some graduation requirement. Also, this a great case for alternative education paths...why should we expect everyone to go back to get a bachelor's degree? There should be a much more accessible type of education system for people obtain in demand skills within 6 months to a year, it's just wrong to expect someone to put their life on hold for 4 years to get a degree later in life when the basic job-related skills learned from most degrees could be obtained within a year.

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rogerbMay. 22, 13 2:25 PM

My daughter graduated in 5 years, my son graduated in 3 years. Everyone is different, but regardless, the average was 4 years. This is a non-story.

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SammyBoyMay. 22, 13 2:34 PM

As is typical of a think-tank hit piece, the valuable data and legitimate questions are obfuscated by hyperbole and faux-outrage at what someone else is able to obtain (remarkably hypocritical of one academic to complain about what another is getting). This piece is filled with blind rhetoric about the bloat and life-sucking leeches that fill the state university ranks. Yes it's a very legitimate point to argue that the tuition differences aren't as great, and one I've argued myself, if it takes longer to earn a degree. The U of MN, for example, costs about $20K this year for an undergrad who can't live with their parents. The local private colleges of note are around $50K. As pointed out by the author in a less hyperbolic section, many private schools offer need-based grants and larger scholarships, which can bring the cost down to half that price. Take the extra one to two years it might take at the U, and that per-year savings disappears in terms of extra tuition and not being able to work. But to compare Ivy Leagues with "lower quality state universities" is disingenuous, especially since the character of the student populations are not even similar. Perhaps the author should have compared the top schools to the charter universities to find some more equal competition, rather than falling back on the tried-and-true method of comparing apples to Zambonies to arrive at the desired conclusion.

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william16May. 22, 13 3:11 PM

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Anyone who is shocked that their college degree is taking 6 years or longer either changed majors midstream or didn't do their homework--before and/or during college. It's not much different than taking out an 8-year(!) car loan--those who realize they're still upside-down on their loan after 4+ years shouldn't be surprised...they didn't make an optimal choice to begin with.

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unicorn4711May. 22, 13 3:49 PM

"Talk of three-year bachelor degrees has grown. They are the standard in Europe now." And it's mostly free in Europe, save for the UK. Our schools are an overpriced joke.

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Bob AlbertiMay. 22, 13 3:50 PM

Although it took me 32 years to graduate, my daughter did it in 4. Not impossible, but certainly not easy.

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FrankLMay. 22, 13 4:32 PM

william16, I respectfully disagree. I have kids in state universities in different states, yet both have the same problem. Key prerequisite courses in their major are always full with upperclassmen, which ends up adding another year because they can't take additional courses within their major. If the universities want to fix this, vow that key prerequisite courses will add sections to meet demand.

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sheacarrMay. 22, 13 4:36 PM

Younger brother just graduated from the U in 3 years. Make sure to take college credits in high school when they're offered and your chances of graduating in 4 will increase dramatically.

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