Issue: Many students feel like they are falling short in their college career if they take longer than the standard four years to graduate from a university.
Our stance: Statistics show it is actually common for students to take longer than four years to earn a degree, and graduating is a big enough accomplishment in itself to be celebrated no matter how long it takes.
A study done in late 2014 by Complete College America showed there was a staggering upward trend of students taking longer than four years to graduate from college, with only 19 percent of students attending a public university earning a degree on time.
To really put this into perspective, when two roommates move into their dorm room at the start of their freshman year, numbers show there’s a much greater chance neither of them will earn a bachelor’s degree on time.
The report by Complete College America called this the “Four-Year Myth,” highlighting the ill-advised belief an average college student always graduates in this amount of time.
WKU has more fortunate graduation numbers in comparison, with nearly 32 percent of students graduating after four years on the Hill, according to the Office of Institutional Research, which stated an additional 21 percent will graduate after being in college for six years. Out of just over 580 universities, only 50 will graduate a majority of their students in the expected four years. Just 24 percent of students at public universities in Kentucky will graduate in four years, and Kentucky overall ranks 38 out of graduation rates by state.
While this is better for WKU in comparison, it is still a shockingly low number. Hundreds upon hundreds of students will attend Master Plan at WKU before their freshman year starts, signing their name on a banner labeled with a four-year graduation date on it. However, well over half of them won’t graduate in that year.
This trend shouldn’t frighten students, because there are numerous explanations for it. Students change their majors more often than not, and while this decision can set them back a semester or two (depending on at what point they switch), it has put them on a course they actually want to follow. Students just need to be deliberate when making this change and avoid impulsiveness to ensure no extra time is lost.
Many students also don’t take a full 15 hours of courses per semester in order to work a job to more easily afford college. This is especially true for first-generation students who don’t have the financial support other students have, which makes taking a slower graduation path the smarter, more affordable move. College isn’t for everyone, and a degree isn’t worth going bankrupt over, but if a student can find a way to afford it, then it is absolutely worth it, late graduation or not.
Transferring universities can play a major factor, too. Twelve percent of students transfer and graduate from a different university, according to 2017 research conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, but credits don’t always carry over to different colleges, which may cause students to have to retake classes, setting them back after an already stressful change.
According to the NSC report, over 30 percent of students who attend college will drop out of school completely (just below 19 percent of students who come to WKU will drop out before they graduate in four years).
College is a demanding time period where students are officially becoming adults while making the decisions that set up their future. Decisions and possible mistakes will occur along the way, potentially setting a student to graduate past when they expected, but this doesn’t de-value their degree in any way.
Students obviously shouldn’t come to college looking to graduate in more than four years. However, graduating in this amount of time isn’t absolutely an indication a student had a strong college career. The experiences they make, the organizations they are part of and, most importantly, what they learn deter- mines that.
The realization of the “Four-Year Myth” should be a wake-up call to any student who feels like they’re behind because they are graduating “late,” because in reality, they are overachieving in comparison by graduating at all. Graduation isn’t a race but a personal goal one achieves at his/her own pace.