How Colleges Are Fixing the Problem of Students Not Graduating on Time
by Max Basaraba
Only half of all students who start studying a four-year college course graduate within those four years.
With completion rates this low, it means students are studying for longer. This increases levels of debt, reduces the chances of graduating at all, and means it takes students today even longer to find and start a career.
Completion rates at private schools are higher than at public. According to a UCLA study, the four-year public completion rate is 41 percent; whereas it’s 61 percent at private universities. Why is this, and crucially, what can be done about it?
Why are completion rates for four-year degrees so low?
It comes down to a number of factors. Clearly, colleges with more resources and students — and their families — who can afford to pay more, have an advantage. Completion rates within four years are one third higher at private compared to public schools.
Not only does this put a strain on students and families or guardians, this also means colleges still need to make room in classes for students who should have graduated. It puts a strain on college resources too.
Colleges, therefore, are as keen to solve this problem as students. Unemployment may be at its lowest rate in over a decade, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to delay starting a career and earning a living. Not when the burden of student debt is higher than it has ever been.
When it comes to finding an explanation for why so many don't graduate on-time, it comes back to resources. And in some ways, it’s a vicious cycle. If colleges don't have enough space on the classes students need to take the majors they want, then they're forced to take others. Other students, often those who were themselves forced to take other courses en-route to those majors, are taking up the spaces they need.
Every college has hundreds of direct and indirect routes for students wanting to take hundreds of different majors many offer. Not every student knows, when they start, what they want to major in, either.
It comes down to a combination of there not being enough resources — space on classes — for students to take the majors they need to graduate on-time, forcing students into a cycle of delays, and a handful of students not knowing what they want to major in. Often, these students navigate through a series of options before picking the right one, or dropping out. But in turn, this places further resourcing pressures on universities.
Due to the strain of students studying for longer places on the higher education system, even state legislatures are starting to connect university subsidies and grants to graduation rates.
Are there solutions to low four-year graduation rates?
In some cases, due to family and work commitments, taking a full-time course schedule isn’t an option for every student. Some can only manage part-time.
But for those who can take the required 15 credits per semester to graduate in four years, there are solutions for the problems students and colleges are facing.
One answer, launched at a community college in California, Cosumnes River College (CRC), is a grant for those taking 12 or more credits every semester. Being offered across California, the Student Success Completion Grant gives a $1,000 incentive for completing 12 credits per semester, or $2,000 a year for 15 credits, completed successfully.
Financial incentives are potentially part of the answer. Another solution is reducing complexity. Too often, there are forms students need to complete by specific deadlines, that they aren't told about. Faculty assume many of them already know, when that isn't the case.
Colleges are starting to watch the data more closely. So that they can see who's taking enough credits, who’s on-target for the major they want, to ensure they can support students more effectively. Some colleges are even designing 15 credit course schedules for students, so that they can allocate resources more effectively.
Another solution is Prepler. Instead of trying to figure out the unclear routes to successful graduation without support, gain the insights needed before you even start. Or if you have started, working out the quickest route to a successful graduation in real-time. Navigate the hidden curriculum within every college. There are dozens of ways to get the major you need, and with Prepler you can have the routes clearly mapped out.
Graduate on-time and save money, with Prepler.