The one sure way to hold college costs down is for students to graduate on time. Any extra semesters spent on campus adds tuition, books, and other additional expenses that raise the total expected cost of their diploma. So much for college cost calculators. Stony Brook University (SBU) announced “a major push to get students to complete undergraduate degrees in four years,” according to Newsday Sept. 17. All colleges should make this a priority.
Graduation rates used to be calculated based on a four year period. This was the traditional amount of time needed for students to meet the requirements necessary to graduate. Now, students are taking longer to graduate and millions start but never finish. The new calculations are based on a 4-6 year period. Two extra years can deplete bank accounts and add thousands more in student debt. It delays the time to enroll in graduate schools or start a career.
More attention is being paid to grad rates since President Barack Obama proposed a new federal college-ratings system that may link financial aid to value. The longer it takes to graduate, the more a degree costs. This reduces the bottom line of return on an educational investment. The best bang for the educational buck is not currently part of the financial aid formula. The Department of Education is developing the system seeking input from experts, colleges and the public.
Stony Brook University plan
SBU’s plan is a combination of tracking, funding and options. “The initiative includes giving better academic advice to keep students on track, establishing a new fund to provide aid to students who might otherwise take a semester off for unmet financial needs and boosting flexibility with more online classes,” Newsday reports.
On their website, SBU shows the graduation rate of 70 percent for freshmen entering in Fall 2006 with 2 percent still enrolled after six years. They also report 90 percent returning for the second year. The retention rate is another important statistic for families to review. It shows the likelihood of students returning to the school for their sophomore year.
Lesson for families
There are many costs out of the control of families. Colleges set their own tuition, fees and housing costs. Governments make their own financial aid formulas. However, how long it takes to earn a degree depends on the student. Dropping classes, switching majors, adding programs, and financial difficulties can upset the graduation timetable.
The best way to limit costs is to create a personal college plan to graduate on time. Use all college resources but take charge of the process. Choose courses and majors carefully, keep on top of progress towards graduation requirements, consider the effect of other programs and jobs. To get the best college value, students must maximize their on and off campus opportunities, manage their time, and afford the costs.
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