Students take time when it comes to graduating

Dennis Leblanc working with a student on his classes for next semester.

UNL adviser Dennis Leblanc working with a student on his classes for next semester.

 Story and photos by T.J. Henning, NewsNetNebraska

Beginning my college career in the fall of 2009, I knew a college education would be far more rigorous than my high school education. As was the case in high school, I also thought I’d graduate from college in four years. 

I was close. I’ll be graduating in December with a degree in broadcast journalism in four and half years. There are two main reasons it took an extra semester for me. A broadcasting journalism degree takes up a lot of out-of-class work. Setting up and doing interviews, filming everything and then taking that film and editing it and re-editing it until it’s finally ready.

Also working a part time job to have money during the school year was important and took up time as well. Students like myself are now the norm; taking more than four years to graduate college with a bachelors degree.

Looking at the Numbers

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who started in the fall of 2005, 38.6 percent graduated in four years among public and private universities. That is compared to 54.3 percent of students who started the same year and finished in five years. 

The latest figures show from UNL’s Institutional Research and Planning that students who enrolled in Fall of 2009, 33 percent of them graduated in four years. The National Average for 2010 graduates at public universities was 31.3 percent according to the website collegecompletion.

Bill Watts in his sixth year at UNL.

 UNL’s Bill Watts says the university is trying to increase graduation rates.

Bill Watts, Director of University Advising and Career Services, says UNL has been working hard the last couple of years on trying to increase the graduation rates. He and others are looking at reasons as to why students are taking longer than four years.

“You are going to hear a variety of answers from different people on that. Some of it ties to students working more while they’re in college and that impacts their ability to take full course loads. Students change their minds on what they want to pursue in terms of an academic career, so that can add more time,” Watts said.

Is taking longer really a cause for concern?

Every student will have different reasons for taking a extra semester or two to graduate, Watts said.  But, is it necessarily a problem if students are taking longer than four years?

“It absolutely is a concern to the university,” Watts said. ” Our four year graduation rate and six year graduation rate are lower than we want them to be. It’s absolutely a focus of the university and our chancellor to see more students graduate.”

The graph below compares UNL’s four and six year graduation rates.

graph (1)

Jon Fortenbury, writer for USA Today College who focuses on higher education, says on a national scale schools aren’t alarmed by this trend. Nor does he see taking longer to graduate being an issue.

“Of course, a student ultimately spends more money this way, with college tuition increasing yearly,” Fortenbury said. “But spending more than four years to graduate doesn’t look bad on a resume. No one cares usually.

So it’s up to the student: do they want to start their career sooner and pay less or take their time?”

Ways to help students graduate in four

UNL has tried implement things such as a four year degree guarantee that Watts said has been around for quite a while. However, Watts said the guarantee has its flaws because it is predicated on that student picking a major and sticking to it. He notes that national data suggests that students who enroll into college, 70 percent of them will change their major at least once before they graduate. Watts want students to graduate in four years whether they’re on the plan or not.

Other ways students can help themselves are by using tools such as MyPlan and degree audits, Watts said. Students can use both these online services to check their own progress. MyPlan is a tool to set up meetings with your academic adviser and records information from the meeting with said adviser. The biggest effort however to make students finish in four years, starts from the very first time they step on campus.

“The past two years, right out of the gate, from the moment at new student enrollment we’ve been talking to students the importance of planning to graduate in four years and working with academic advisers,” Watts said.

Colleges are business at the end of the day and still have to make money. Students taking longer wouldn’t seem such of bad thing for them. Fortenbury notes that colleges need to money to survive financially but don’t want the stigma of having low graduation rates.

“If they have low graduation rates, then that could hurt the school’s ranking, leading to less students attending there. So colleges have to figure out which is matters more, graduation rates and academic ratings or making more money,” Forternbury said.

Plus taking a look at student athletes

Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academics at UNL Dennis Leblanc has worked in advising student athletes for over 25 years. He has helped many student athletes set up their class schedule each semester working towards obtaining a degree. Having done this for so many years, Leblanc can tell if a certain student should take their time considering the amount of time they put into athletics.

“I think its really unique to each individual,” Leblanc said. “Somebody comes in here and maybe there learning style only allows them to take only 12 credit hours a semester and I don’t see any problem with that. But if someone is just hanging on and trying to avoid entering the real world then that would be different.” 

Leblanc did mention however with some sports it can be very difficult to graduate in four years. For instance, the baseball team has such a heavy spring travel schedule some might only take nine or 12 credit hours during that semester. Some will finish their schooling once their eligibility is up or some like Shane Komine or Ken Harvey will come back years later after playing in  the major leagues to finish their degree.

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