Get Smart – Jamie Wallace

Academics_LibrariesStudentSittingThe Myth of the 4 Year College Degree, ( or is it?)
The times they are a changing. Back when most parents of current high school students went to college, a four-year college education was the norm. Relatively few students took five years.

According to the National Department of Education, currently only 40% of students nationwide graduate in four years. At public schools the number is only 30%. Overall 60% of students graduate in six years, which makes a 6 year college career the new norm-to-be.

Don’t despair, too much. As with all statistics, the devil is in the details. For students who start at a 4-year college or university, 59% of them graduate in 4 years. Unfortunately, the public statistics do not track transfer students, part-time students, or older students. At most national public universities, the 4-year rate is 19%, while at the flagship schools the rate is 36%. There is a correlation between how selective a school is and its 4 and 6 year graduation rates.

In California private colleges, the 4-year rate is 61.3%, an additional 12.6% take another 2 years to graduate (there is a 20% average dropout rate). This means that for private California colleges around 74% will graduate in 6 years. California public colleges the 4 year rate is 33.6%, while the total 6 year percentage is 64%.

What is going on? Why does it take longer to graduate from college?

Just the Facts: Don’t shoot the messenger:
In 2016, 20.2 million students will be attending colleges and universities, up 5% from 2000. That is 13.2 million in 4-year institutions, and 7 million in 2-year community colleges
1.7 million students begin colleges having to take remedial classes in English, Math, and Science. These courses take time away from completing major requirements.
60% of students change colleges (National Center for Education Statistics)
Only 5% of full time students earn an associates’ degree in 2 years from community college
Around 75% of students change majors at least once. If the change in major involves changing to a different area of study (e.g. English Literature to Chemistry) the student will have to make up the degree requirement courses resulting in more months of study.
Full time students graduate at much higher rates than part-time students
Some financial aid is limited to 4 years
Register early, try to avoid colleges with over-crowded classes. It will take longer to complete your degree.
Nationally, several private colleges have 4-year graduations rates around 80%: For example: Carleton, University of Notre Dame, Pomona College, Tufts, Franklin & Marshall, Whitman, Occidental, Santa Clara to name some.
In California: UC Berkeley, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego, Davis, and Santa Barbara have between 72% to 50% four-year graduation rates.§or=public_four
At the Cal State University system, only 19% of students entering as full-time freshmen graduate in 4 years. 54% in 6 years.

What can you do?

Use college advisors and counselors in your freshman year. Don’t go semester to semester, try to form a plan and think ahead.
If you need remedial courses, consider taking them before entering college or the summer after you graduate.
Make sure your credits transfer, many credits are not accepted by the college you are transferring to, do your homework.
Work on your critical and analytical thinking and writing skills while in high school
Seriously consider private colleges for their higher graduation rates (make sure you understand the full financial aid situation, don’t assume you can’t afford them!).
Pay attention to graduation rates, and make your choices accordingly.
Take college courses seriously
If you find some subject you absolutely love, but are ¾ of the way to your major, don’t change majors. You can double major or minor in your new found passion. The vast majority of adults do not end up working in the area they majored in!

Check out college graduation rates.
Take remedial classes in English and Math ahead of time
Take college seriously
Get to know your college advisors and counselors ASAP
Keep an open mind

Jamie Wallace
Get Smart for College
Independent Educational Consultant
Jamie is a UCLA trained educational consultant.
[email protected]

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  1. A decade or more ago, college tuition was much lower, which meant students didn’t have to spend as much time at their part-time or full-time jobs to make ends meet. Parents made more money on average, which meant that many parents could pay a greater percentage of their kid’s tuition. Therefore students could fill more of their day with classes and study.

    It was far easier back then to take a full load of classes.

    The length of time it takes a student to graduate is far less important than the amount of that student’s debt upon graduation!

  2. Thank you Jaime. I really enjoyed your column. We have a son who will take 6 years. This is because of his particular difficulties and we are fine with that. We’re so grateful that he attends college and is doing well. Sometimes slow is better.

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