When students don’t organize their college years very well, who ends up footing the bill?
My son, a college junior, recently registered for the spring semester. As he described his upcoming classes to me, I had one question. When will you graduate? His answer of, “In 2016, I think,” was uninspiring.
He arrived at college with 26 credits earned through Advanced Placement classes in high school. The idea that he might not get the other 94 credits of required courses to graduate in four years, even though he has been taking 12 to 15 hours per semester, put me on edge. But it’s not entirely his fault.
The university has no vested interest in him graduating on time since it earns hefty fees and tuition as long as he is on campus. Besides, he’s an out-of-state student, so he pays more than locals.
If he’s paying more and staying longer, what’s not to love?
According to a study released by the non-profit Complete College America (CCA), 19% of students at non-flagship public universities complete a bachelor’s degree in four years, whereas at flagship public universities the percentage is still an appalling 36%. CCA sites a number of reasons why this might be so, including too many choices presented to students and the lack of transferability of credits when students switch universities.
These sound like valid points, but from personal experience, I know of another reason — the schools don’t set out programs and paths that ensure students are tracking for a four-year stay.
Bank of Mom & Dad
I called my son back a few days after we discussed his spring schedule. I told him that his mother and I would feel much better if he met with an advisor and then presented us with a detailed plan of the courses he would take over the next year and a half that would lead to graduation.
He met with an advisor and called back with a plan. While this is fabulous, the question remains of why this exact tracking was not shown to him when he started his college career, or at any point along the way.
I can hear the school’s response in my head. This information was always available, all he had to do was ask. I get that, but I also understand that kids go from the regiment of high school, where everything including lunch is pre-planned, to the freedom of college. Along the way they lose one of the most important assets they have — parents.
Using the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as their tool, universities have almost completely shut parents out of the educational process, leaving these newly-freed young adults to make planning decisions that have serious consequences.
I say “almost completely shut parents out” because of course, parents are allowed in one area of student life… paying the bills.
However, if you want to see courses, grades, etc., then the student must share this information because it typically is not available directly from the university. This is ground I’ve covered before, but it is part of the problem that leads to extending the college stay.
Who’s Watching Out for the Student?
Arguably parents are a child’s best advocate, and certainly are the best advocates of their money that is sent along to pay for their kid’s education. By diminishing the connection between the college and parents, universities have removed one of the guiding forces in a young adult’s life that is part of what got them to college in the first place.
CCA has partnered with state governors and institutions in an effort to increase the percentage of students that finish their degrees in the traditional time frame. Some schools have taken on the challenge and have improved their on-time graduation rate substantially.
Unfortunately, out of more than 580 public institutions in the U.S., only 50 of them, or less than 10%, have on-time graduation rates at or above 50% for their full-time students.
Staying on campus a little longer is expensive. The CCA estimates an extra year will cost the average student at a four-year university $22,826 in expenses plus $45,327 in lost wages for a total cost of $68,153.
But the analysis should not end there.
How much of the cost is paid by parents who could’ve used those funds for retirement planning? Given that we’re discussing public universities, how much in-state funding is used for students extending their stays?
How much productivity is lost in the economy due to workers delaying their entry into the labor force? And finally, how many slots are not open to incoming freshmen because universities have so many holdovers still working to complete their degrees?
Look at in this way, getting young adults through college in a timely manner is an issue that should concern everyone, not just current parents.