Monday, April 19, 2004

Four-year degree can take 6 years - or more


Education Q&A

Click here to e-mail Denise Smith Amos
More students are taking longer than four years to get a bachelor's degree.

Only 36.4 percent of U.S. freshmen seeking a bachelor's degree get one in four years. That's down from 40 percent a decade ago, according to the Higher Education Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Parents and students are noticing the trend, especially now that rising tuition makes extra college time costly. And public colleges, under growing federal and state scrutiny to be more accountable, are using graduation rates in hopes of offering a reasonable point of comparison.

But are they?

Most schools touting "graduation rates" refer to students who achieve a bachelors degree in six years, not four. Also graduation rates leave out students who transfer, even if they graduate elsewhere.

"Even though the information is incomplete, it's useful to schools and policymakers to have some rough idea of whether students are successful. If a school graduates in the 20 to 30 percent range, you should wonder if it's a good idea for your student to start there," said Darrell Glenn, director of performance reporting at the Ohio Board of Regents.

The board oversees state funds for higher education and advises the governor and General Assembly.

Even in six years, only 54.4 percent of U.S. college students get their bachelor's degree. In Ohio, it's 53.7 percent and in Kentucky, 42.6 percent.

Why can't more students graduate on time?

That often has more to do with students than with colleges, college officials say.

"You have to realize that, given the economy, there are many students dropping out to work and going to school part time," said Holly Wissing, spokeswoman for Miami University in Oxford, which has a high six-year graduation rate of 81.1 percent.

Also, more students lack the right high school preparation, especially in math and English, said Greg Hand, spokesman for the University of Cincinnati. Remedial courses typically add time and cost, but not credit, to the college experience.

Among major area colleges, Miami University, Xavier University and the College of Mount St. Joseph graduate most students in four years. Miami University's 65.2 percent 4-year-graduation rate puts it in the top seven public colleges nationwide, Wissing said.

On the other hand, colleges with more part-time or "non-traditional" students, like UC and Northern Kentucky University, have lower graduation rates.

Hand said about 5,000 of UC's undergrads take a year extra for co-op or internship programs.

"By the time a co-op student graduates, they've got a year and a half of on-the-job experience," he said. ---

E-mail damos@enquirer.com




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