It used to be that kids went to college for four years. But a new study, released thisspring, shows that most students today take about five years to graduate. The problemis particularly bad at public universities, where, on average, only half the students getout in four years--compared with 80 percent of private-school kids. At the University ofMichigan, fully 65 percent graduate on time. But at UCLA, only 42 percent graduate infour years, and less than a third of the students in the Texas university system do. Theselong-timers have become a nightmare for university administrators, who over the nextdecade will need to make room for the biggest crop of incoming freshmen since thebaby boom.
Many of the slower-moving students insist that they're not being lazy or indecisive---quite the opposite. They'd like to graduate expeditiously, but state budget cuts havemade it impossible to take all the courses they need in time. Factor in the slightestchange in course, and you're in for the long haul. Anne Keldermans, 23, neverconsidered an economics major until she was forced into an econ course when anaccounting class she needed was cut. Now, with a minor in business administration, shehopes to graduate from Illinois State more than five years after she started.
To be competitive in a tough job market, some students say they need two orthree degrees. "You have to find a way to give yourself an edge," says Brent Chaney, 21,student president at UT-Austin, whose double major in English and government will takefive years. Student jobs are another issue. The American Council on Education says that80 percent of students now work about 20 hours a week during the school year. Whilemany are trying to pay tuition, others work to improve their quality of life. Affluent kidsare as likely to have jobs as lower-income students, but they work for "a car payment, acell phone, a nicer apartment, a spring-break trip", says Jacqueline King, of ACE.
Now a number of state schools are launching initiatives aimed at moving kids morequickly through the system. The University of Texas has created the $22 million "B-On-Time" program, which offers select students the chance to turn loans into grants if theygraduate in four years with a B average. Illinois is guaranteeing freshmen that theirtuition won't increase--as long as they finish in four years. UCLA vice Provost Judy Smithhas started monitoring students' progress.