Report: ‘Complete College America’ Finds More Students Graduate Late Than On Time


A recent report conducted by the Indianapolis based nonprofit organization, Complete College America, has data showing that more students are late graduating from both two and four year colleges than those who graduate on time.

The report is called the “Four Year Myth” and says, “Students and parents know that time is money. The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long and graduates too few.”

The data collected and reported in the study shows that roughly 19% of students attending public colleges and universities graduate at the expected time when pursuing a four year bachelor’s degree. This leaves the remaining 81% of students to graduate at some point beyond the four year mark or not at all. The report also shows that only 36% percent of the students enrolled in a full time bachelor’s degree program in attendance at state research colleges graduate on time, which in turn leaves 64% of students graduating late or unaccounted for.

There are a myriad of reasons that could potentially contribute to the delayed graduation of students, as the report shows. Possible factors are noted as registration issues, delayed progress by students, students taking too few classes and issues with the appropriate transfer of credits.

Also noted was the very low amount of students graduating from community colleges on time with their associate degrees or certificates. It is reported that only 5% of students graduate with an associate’s degree within the intended two year time period. Only 15.9% of students achieving certificates at community colleges are reported to complete the programs in the 1 to 2 years it is expected as well.

As a result of the extended time frames in which students are graduating, experts in the education field have begun to measure degrees in different time allotments. It is now common to hear education policy experts refer to bachelor’s degrees as six year programs and associate’s degrees as three year programs.

The “Four Year Myth” report says of the extended time frame, “Using these metrics may improve the numbers, but it is costing students and their parents billions of extra dollars – $15,933 more in cost of attendance for every extra year of a public two year college and $22,826 for every extra year at a public four year college.”

Higher tuition costs as a result of late graduations may in turn further impact the issue, however. As the amount of tuition students are required to pay out of pocket or borrow via student loans goes up, the resulting student loan debt incurred quickly follows. This alone is easily identifiable as a contributing factor to a decrease in enrollment rates, which will lead to a decrease in the amount of graduates, thus continuing the cycle of students taking longer to complete their degrees if they complete them at all.

The report certainly points to a number of factors that may be behind the low rates, which even education experts aren’t disputing. Some experts consulted about Complete College America’s report did express a desire to have further areas evaluated like the faculty at institutions with less than desirable graduation numbers as well as reviewing the amount of knowledge actually learned by students.

The spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Debra Humphreys, said of the report “They’re too focused on efficiency and not enough on quality. Yes, we have a huge completion problem, but we also have a problem that a lot of students graduated without learning what they need.”

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