Why Do Colleges Use Six-Year Graduation Rates?
This is college rankings season when different “college guides” release their data based on how they rank. It really bothers me to see that these so-called guides use the six-year graduation rate, when they should be reporting on how effective colleges are, and have historically been, at graduating their students on time. That’s usually within four years for most degree programs. I’ve reposted this piece to explain why the six-year year graduation rate is still used.
If you’re parents of a college-going high school sophomore or junior, you’ve probably started to read brochures and profiles (hopefully mine among them) about various colleges and noticed that they use six-year graduation rates as opposed to a four-year graduation rates.
Unless the four-year graduation rate is exceptionally high, more schools stick with the six-year graduation rate. It not only places the school in a better light; it also reflects many legitimate things that might happen to a college student such as:
- Education interrupted due to illness of the student or a family member
- Other family-related issues
- Military service (National Guard members in college can actually be deployed. So can servive members who attend college near a military base)
- Financial problems or a loss of financial aid
- Multiple majors
- Joint degrees
- Changing a major
- Co-op programs
- Courses retaken to make up a failing grade
- Disciplinary separations
- Credits taken at one school are not accepted by the next school the student attends
Personally, I don’t like the idea of using the six-year graduation rate. It has left families uncomfortable with the thought that college is a six-year adventure, went it does not have to be.
It would be too easy to say, if the concern is to graduate in four years, maybe less time, that a college-bound student should stay away from large public universities or, even sillier, declare a major in the first semester of the freshman year and stick with it.
But there are ways that you can hedge the bet that your student can finish in four years, maybe less time.
If s/he is not committed to a pre-professional program as a high school senior, then aim for liberal arts colleges or the college of arts and sciences at the larger school.
Virtually every four-year college or university has general education requirements. Typically, they include English Composition and a year each of a math, a science, humanities, social studies, and sometimes a foreign language. A student in the liberal arts college or a larger university completes most of these requirements by the end of their sophomore year as well as introductory classes in their possible majors. The best thing any student can do during their first two years, if they have not committed to a major, is to plan courses that will enable them to change their mind without having to back-track, taking introductory courses in a new major during their junior year or later.
Look for multi-disciplinary courses that can be used to satisfy more than one general education requirement.
Rutgers-New Brunswick, for instance, has “signature” courses, classes that combine social sciences, math/science or humanities together around a theme such as food scarcity or global warming. Miami of Ohio and Ohio Wesleyan are also good when it comes to schools that offer cross-disciplinary classes.
Take advantage of winter sessions offered by your school or a public college nearby.
It’s becoming more commonplace for schools to offer online, even in-person classes during the break between semesters. Taking one class during each break can either lessen the time required to graduate by a semester, or provide the opportunity to graduate in four years with more than one major or minor.
For students interested in co-op, consider schools that offer a four-year option versus the more popular five-year option.
Purdue is an example of one such school, so is Northeastern. While co-op students pay no tuition, only the co-op fees (if any) while on co-op, opting for four years over five saves the cost of the extra semester that is not spent on co-op.
Consider colleges that operate on a trimester or quarter system over those that operate over semesters.
The work will go faster, but students can take more courses in less time. Cal Tech, Carleton College (MN), Union College (NY), the University of Michigan are among the schools that use a trimester system. California’s public universities (excluding Cal and UC-Merced) and Stanford are among the schools that use a quarter system. The downside of these types of schedules is that school runs into June, leaving a shorter summer break.
Some schools allow students to take one course more than a full load for no extra charge.
If your student can handle the extra class–maybe it’s one that s/he takes online–then s/he can save some time and possibly some money.
Choose a major where success is more likely.
This may be the most useful tip. No college student can afford to remain in an academic program that is not interesting to them or beyond their abilities. When I was in college, for example, I knew many engineering students who earned mostly Cs. I don’t know what made them less happy, the material and teaching in the classes or the grades they got. If I were an employer I would be concerned about considering students who had failed more than one class in their major requirements and took it a second time. I would wonder about their abilities and commitment to a field. I would also why it took that person six years to graduate when many of his peers could finish in four.