When most students enter college they envision themselves spending the next four years of their lives at that university. Unfortunately, for many students, this is not the case.
According to the independent analysis corporation, Education Sector, the American higher education system has two major problems: dropouts and debt. Barely half of the students who start college get a degree within the first six years while graduation rates at more selective colleges are around 25 percent.
The issue has become so pressing that at the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) meeting at the beginning of August, three of the 16 presentations were dedicated to improving student and institution strategies for attaining degrees.
According to the UC Davis website, 50 percent of students entering as a [first-year student] in 2003 graduated in four years, 75 percent graduated in five years and 80 percent graduated in six years. This is a decrease in the number of years it took students to graduate from those entering in 1993, with rates of 30 percent, 68 percent and 77 percent, respectively.
Most of those finishing in over four years have either changed majors or play sports for the university.
“I started off my first year and a half at [UC] Davis without really knowing what I wanted to do,” said John Faniani, a fifth-year communication major. “By the time I had declared a mechanical engineering major, I realized I would be done in five and a half years. With rising tuition costs, I wanted to get out as soon as I could. Communication was one of the only majors that allowed me to do it over again.”
Due to the amount of time spent in practice and in games, many athletes also resort to taking an extra year.
“There were a couple of reasons I had to do an extra year,” said Miles Hadley, a fifth-year community and regional development major. “As a freshman playing soccer I chose to redshirt and retain eligibility for when I would get more playing time. Having practice 10 hours a week also makes it hard to take a full course load, so I ended up taking three classes a quarter during the season.”
Sometimes this additional stress drives students away from their chosen sport.
“With housing, my university cost around $48,000 a year,” said Alina Schnake-Mahl, a recent graduate of Brandeis University. “I couldn’t afford to stay another year and school became increasingly difficult with soccer. I had to quit after my third year in order to do what I wanted to do academically and be able to write my thesis.”
One problem in particular that was noted in the presentation by the SHEEO is the disconnection between four-year institutions and community colleges. Some classes taken at previous schools and universities do not always transfer to the student’s new school. This issue leaves students with fewer units to put toward graduation forcing students to take transferable courses, thus delaying graduation. California has a system that shows students which classes will transfer to the UC or CSU systems. According to the presentation, Georgia, Washington, Texas and Illinois have taken steps to smooth out the process.
These changes will help the growing number of students who are opting to attend community college in lieu of a four-year institution due to the rising costs of school and the current state of our economy.
“I wish I would’ve gone to community college first,” Faniani said. “The dorms were fun but it would have saved a lot of money and I think I would have had a better idea of what I wanted to do.”
ELLIS CLARK can be reached at email@example.com.