Question of the Day: What Percentage of Students At Public Universities Graduate in Four Years?

A great opener to discuss the challenges that students will face to complete college within four years at a public university and the costs associated with not completing within a four year period.

The answer:  19% of full-time students.

From the NY Times:

Students and parents know that time is money,” said the report, called “Four-Year Myth.” “The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long and graduates too few.”  At most public universities, only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, the report found. Even at state flagship universities — selective, research-intensive institutions — only 36 percent of full-time students complete their bachelor’s degree on time.

Why don’t students graduate on time?  From the Complete College America report:

“…the institutional practices that are the great drag on student progress: credits lost in transfer, unavailable critical courses, uninformed choices of majors, low credit accumulation each semester, broken remediation sequences, and excessive credit requirements.”

The report also includes some research from Barry Schwartz on how choice architecture and “the paradox of choice” makes college completion a challenge:

“Though choice is good, there can be too much of a good thing. And when there is, it leads to paralysis, to bad decisions, to a loss of self-control, and to dissatisfaction with even good decisions. Though none of this research has been done specifically in connection with the academic experiences of college students, it is easy to see how current low college completion rates are exacerbated by the amount of freedom of choice that college students have.”

Why is this important for students to know?  By understanding the hurdles to graduating on-time, students can devise strategies to overcome them.   Oh, and don’t forget to remind them that these extra years can lead to dramatic increases in student debt.  From the report:

“On average, an additional year now costs more than $3,000 extra at a two-year institution and nearly $9,000 extra in tuition at a four-year institution. Most colleges and universities raise tuition and fees each year, while financial aid stays nearly constant. As scholarships and savings run out, students and their families are left to borrow more of the costs of attending school.”


Have students develop a plan for how they will buck these odds and graduate on-time.