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Why Do so Few U.S. College Students Graduate in Four Years?

by Max Basaraba
A new report has uncovered something that may not come as a shock to many students and parents: College education in the U.S. is too expensive and too few students graduate in four years.
According to the “Four-Year Myth”, a report published by Complete College America, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit group, only 19 percent of students graduate with a bachelor's degree in four years.
Pretty shocking really, that nearly 80 percent of students are piling more debt on to keep going, or ultimately, fail to graduate after more than four years of study.
Even at flagship, research-intensive, and therefore more expensive universities, only 36 percent of full-time students manage to graduate on-time, within four years.
What is the cost of taking longer to graduate?
At present, federal student loan debt exceeds $1.6 trillion. Several Democratic 2020 presidential candidates are proposing eliminating it altogether.
Over 45 million Americans are still paying off student loans, seriously impacting standards of living and the ability for a whole generation of young and even middle-aged professionals from advancing or even getting onto the property ladder.
The longer students spent trying to complete a degree — and many do work hard to finish what they've started — the more student debt they come out with. On average, students now take 6 years, instead of 4, to complete an undergraduate bachelor's degree. Across the country, only 50 of over 580 public four-year institutions graduate the majority of their students in that timescale.
One extra year, at most public universities, costs $18,000, and at private colleges, an extra year can cost upwards of $41,000 (these figures include cost of living, housing, etc). So, when it comes to completing a degree on-schedule, time really is money, and it’s costing students and anyone, such as parents, who provide financial support, a fortune to graduate successfully.
For many millions, graduating in four years really is a myth, and it’s having a long-term negative impact on lifestyles, finances and aspirations, such as traveling, buying a house, having a family, and even retirement plans.
How to solve this problem?
Finding a solution for this is not easy, but a solution is required.
Colleges might find it economically beneficial that students take longer to graduate. However, as much as they are, in many cases, big businesses employing hundreds or thousands, they also have a duty of care.
Students, parents and politicians are all looking for answers to a trillion-plus dollar problem that is only getting worse with every passing semester and academic year.
The Complete College America report is clear on the answer: “Our best strategy to make college more affordable and a sure way to boost graduation rates over all is to ensure that many more students graduate on time.”
A few of the reasons for students failing to complete a degree in four years is too much choice piled onto 18-year olds who are only starting to figure out what they want to do. As per the report: “with an enormous cafeteria of possibilities in the college curriculum”, there aren't enough counselors in high schools or colleges helping to give them the guidance they need.
Another problem is that when — as 60 percent of students do — someone moves to a different college, the credits accumulated don't always automatically carry-over to a new college, forcing a student to resit modules, whole semesters, or even academic years. Again, there is not enough clear guidance from those with a duty of care to support young adults making significant professional and financial choices.
Colleges can't prevent students from moving. Nor can they reduce the amount of choice freshers face when considering what courses to take. But guidance can and should be improved.
If colleges can’t provide more effective guidance, then it makes sense that students and parents — whether or not someone has started college or already a student — attempts to find a solution themselves. One such answer is Prepler, a personalized real-time academic planning app.
Prepler helps students navigate the most effective route to graduating on-time. Giving students the guidance they need to take the courses they want, to get onto the majors they need to complete a degree, and understand how to navigate the sometimes difficult hidden curriculum within every university. When you can’t find the guidance you need to graduate in four-years, use Prepler to complete a degree on-time.

Colleges on Prepler