By Katie Walsh | Opinions Editor
The beauty of calling something a four-year institution is that you should only need to spend four years there. Today, this seems to not be the case as a rising number of students are taking four-plus years to finish their degree. Four-year institutions are trying to change that.
U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics in 2012 revealed that a shocking approximate of 58 percent of first-time, full-time students who begin working towards a bachelor’s degree at any so-called four-year institutions in fall of 2004 completed said degree within six years. What’s possibly more shocking is that this is an increase from the 55 percent who completed their degree within six years back in the fall of 1996.
Universities and colleges are standing against students who are considered seniors for more than one academic year, or super seniors, by offering money back guarantees for students who fail to complete their degree in four years’ time. But it comes with fine print that may not be worth the enticing free tuition if your degree takes extra time.
Some restrictions may apply for this limited time offer.
But before getting to the fine print, let’s look at what’s taking so long to complete degrees in the age of earning college credit in high school, night, day and summer classes and internships for credit.
When you have so many options of where to earn your degree, hopping from one college to the next is quite common. Requirements for schools are different, so you might need to put in some extra time to fulfill your new school’s requirements. It could be that you didn’t know about requirements until your senior year only to discover that they won’t be offered until the following year.
If you change your major within a school of study, most of the time it’s pretty doable. Then there’s the regrettable 12 credit semester, where you had to drop a class because it was kicking your butt and you jumped ship. And then there’s the semester abroad meeting friends and satisfying that travel itch. Oh, and you had to take a semester off for a family/friend/money/health issue.
Ok, so we can understand why it might take more than four years to graduate from a presumably four-year institution.
In a CNNMoney article published on March 5, Kim Clark reported that today’s average college freshman graduates in more than five and a half years. With these new money-back guarantees, however, students will have their extra time for the degree paid for if the university is to blame for the failure to complete the degree in four years.
“If school-caused delays prevent a student who signs up for a guarantee from finishing in four years, the college promises to pay for any extra courses they need,” Clark wrote.
The catch is that you have to stick with one major, you cannot study abroad, you have to take 30 credits each academic year, meet with advisors on a regular basis and the extra time’s tuition will not include room and board.
Warning: Results may vary [depending on to which university you sign your life away].
The University of Maine at Farmington is one school offering this program, but it comes with a two-page document, full of legalese explaining all of their restrictions and the many ways they can be disqualified from earning the extra time’s tuition. Going to college is frightening enough, but having to sign your life away the moment you step on campus as a freshman is cruel.
Ball State has taken another approach to limiting time spent on a degree by offering students $500 for graduating on time. Indiana University began freezing tuition for upperclassman who were on track to complete their degrees in four years.
Buyer beware: signing away your life to a career at 17 or 18 for the added benefit of free tuition, should you need more than four years in college, may not be the best option. Choose wisely.
Unless, you’re Van Wilder. Then by all means, sign on the dotted line.
Katie Walsh is a senior English and philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.