A lot of energy goes into the recruitment of prospective students by colleges. Slick brochures, appealing online campaigns with a keen eye to differentiation among stiff competition, and campus programs and amenities are all geared to attract students. Getting into college has become increasingly competitive, but, disappointingly, not nearly as much attention has focused on college completion and diploma attainment.
Alarmingly, only about half of students who begin college at two and four year institutions earn a degree within 150% of the time it should take to get that degree (so, three years at a two-year college and six-years at a four-year college). This poor completion rate has serious financial implications particularly for student borrowers who will never benefit from the increased salary consistent with degree attainment.
According to The American Dream 2.0 study, students at four year institutions greatly overestimate their likelihood of completing college in four years. Eight of ten students believe they will graduate in this time frame, yet only 4 of 10 actually do so. John Pryor, managing director of the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute said, “…we call them four-year colleges, so the implication is that you’re going to finish in four years.” He goes on to say that in the college search with his own son, not one college mentioned their four-year graduation rate in their recruitment presentations to prospective students.
Those students requiring the extra time to graduation often use student loans to help finance this time to diploma, thus contributing to the increased average student debt load which is listed at over $26,000 according to The Project on Student Debt, up from about $17,000 in 2005. Family borrowing to support a student’s college education is listed at almost $60,000. These substantial numbers and the poor on-time graduation rates are, no doubt, contributing to increased student loan default rates.
What does this mean for you, the consumer? Ask questions. Ask what the four-year graduation rate is at that college (beware, they may tell you they only have that figure for the six-year graduation rate since this is what they Federal government requests). What measures are they taking to improve this (which is difficult in the time of budget cuts)? Be cognizant of the amount of debt you will be required to assume to get that degree. Remember, perhaps most importantly, research does not seem to be supporting the idea that there is a correlation between college price and the quality of the education.
(Information for this article was also obtained from “To Raise Graduation Rate, Colleges Are Urged to Help a Changing Student Body” by Tamar Lewin)