There has been a lot of chatter lately about how to offset the tremendous cost of college. The tactic of offering a three-year college degree is gaining some support among colleges and universities with new adopters on board such as Wesleyan University and Minnesota State University. A list of other institutions jumping on this trend be found here.
While it’s far from being considered a mainstream alternative to the four-year degree, the question is: will it take off eventually? The cost benefit could be remarkable, but we should consider today’s current graduation rates and why it is that students take so long to graduate in the first place.
We know from HERI’s recently released report on college graduation rates that students are taking longer to graduate. Many students (56.4 percent) are taking five years to graduate, with a steep increase (17.5 percentage points) in degree completion between four and five years. Between five and six years, the number of students that graduate increases to 61.2 percent.
We also know that certain behaviors better predict graduation rates. Students were more likely to graduate if they had high school experiences that more adequately prepared them for college; if they came to class on time as high school seniors; if they expected to participate in student clubs and groups during college; and if they chose a college based on the overall cost of attending it. Students’ self-ratings on emotional health and drive to achieve also influenced graduation rates.
Some of these factors might lead us to believe that it may not be in a student’s best interest to cram college in three years. That’s one less year to engage socially and
academically. Yet we can’t ignore the fact that students who are mindful of the cost of college have higher rates of graduation. So if the cost of attending college was greatly reduced (subtract one year of tuition) more students would likely graduate.
But graduating, in and of itself, is not the only goal of higher education. So where does that leave us?