Fewer College Students Finish in Four Years
> 1/8/2007 3:53:04 PM

Due to a plethora of changing circumstances and student bodies at colleges around the country, a greater number of today's students take more than four years to earn their bachelor's degrees. Some are quick to lazily attribute this trend to generational problems with discipline and motivation, but the popularity of double majors, overflowing class size, and most of all the increasing number of working students with larger financial burdens all contribute to the fact that many of today's students find it difficult to complete their degrees in four years. This is not a small-scale trend. On the national stage, though almost 60 percent of all enrollees eventually complete a degree, only 35 percent of that same field finish within the standard four-year period. Some school officials also say that many jobs, especially those in the tech sector, require only a two-year degree, and students attracted to relatively high beginning wages end their educations early to join the workforce without realizing that these initial offers will probably not increase over time as they would for employees with more advanced degrees.

It would be a mistake to see this trend as a decline in the education level of the average American: in 2004, a record-high 28 percent of those 25 and older had received at least a bachelor's degree. Of course, this number could and should be much higher, but more young people are attending college in this country than ever before. There's good reason for this, as the average salary for a college graduate is nearly twice that of a worker with only a high school diploma.

Tuitions rise at an even faster rate than enrollment, and many young people understandably do not have the foresight to plan and save sufficiently in order to attend college; as a result they find it unaffordable when the opportunity arises. Some states have tax advantage programs for parents who save for their children's educations, but officials worry that, due to lack of awareness, not enough citizens are taking advantage of these options. Some schools have started initiatives specifically designed to help students finish as quickly as possible. 

Unsurprisingly, public and private schools post very different numbers when it comes to graduation rates:

The highest four-year completion rate (69.1%) is found among students attending private universities, whereas the lowest rate (24.3%) occurs among students at public colleges. The four-year completion rate for students at public universities (28.1%) is also substantially lower than the four-year rates for students enrolled at all types of private four-year colleges: Roman Catholic (46.4%), other religiously-affiliated (51.0%) and independent (56.3%)

When adjusted to accommodate five and six-year degrees, the numbers go up by as much as twenty percent, but its clear that more selective schools register higher rates of completion. The fact that an increasing number of students earn degrees in five or six years should not be particularly disturbing. More important are the general numbers for graduation, and they are rising. Perhaps the most unfortunate statistic relates to the relative literacy level for college graduates, which seems to be declining. Schools that do not properly prepare their students for the working world are not performing at satisfactory levels, regardless of enrollment or graduation rates. If the general quality of a college education is not improving, it is of little consolation that more Americans are attending in the first place, and the amount of time they take to graduate seems irrelevant.

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