As everyone becomes acclimated to the spring semester, many students are coming to terms with and accepting the fact that they may not be graduating on time. For some, this has been a lingering after thought for many semesters while others are just realizing their degrees are going to require more time. Despite the disappointment and confusion of this news, the majority of college students do not complete their degree in four years anymore. Many students are now completing their undergraduate degrees in 5-6 years. For many of us, there is a correlation between bad advising, and class scheduling in earlier academic years that seems to continuously leave us with additional semesters of classes when it comes time to graduate. Many of the issues that attribute to students needing additional time to complete undergraduate education, are issues that can easily be prevented, if that is really an intention. The inability to produce degreed students in four years consistently can be associated with the business aspects of academia, trying to make as much money off of college students as we can.
According to the New York Times, “only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.” Some of the main issues that contribute to this problem are the inability to register for required courses in a specific semesters, an inefficient lack of communication around transfer courses and degree requirements. After attending DelVal for four and a half years it is well known that many have issues with transfer credits being accepted from other institutions here. This issue has been so consistent to the point where students now check that the class will transfer prior to registration, yet that still is no guarantee. The other issue with this is that sometimes transferring a class is the only option. At a small university like ours classes are not always offered every semester or even every year. Sometimes completing a class or degree on time relies on being able to outsource for certain classes, when that method is restricted and the classes still aren’t being offered, students have no choice but to delay graduation.
Many also attribute consistently low credited semesters to the problem, although it is unclear where students are supposed to learn how many credits per semester will allow them to graduate on time balanced with how many credits are simply too much. I know specifically at DelVal as a freshman, students do not make their own schedule; they are given a schedule that is made based on their major and advisors guidance. Too often times, I have found that students have been registered for too few classes their freshman year to graduate on time. Or their class schedule is loaded with a bunch of classes they don’t need to graduate. For some, high school grades have resulted in only being allowed to take 12 credits their first semester, putting them on academic probation and behind for graduation. Twice in my undergraduate career I have been registered for classes that I did not need. In my time working as an Orientation Leader, I’d literally watch advisors as they did their freshman advising sessions. A lot of the times freshman students are advised against taking full course loads in attempts to get acclimated. Yet during this advising, it is not made clear that by not taking full course loads students will not be in alignment with graduating on time. There is a disconnect between these advising sessions and the overall program requirements. Which is to say, there is little concern with the student’s success following that advising session. A friend of mine was really looking forward to graduating this year. It wasn’t until our advising sessions for this semester that he was told he has 17 credits left to take. When discussing this with his advisor, he was told that this was only his advisor’s second job, therefore he wasn’t really concerned.
However, there is a down side to taking your time with an undergraduate degree. As a student you are only guaranteed 5-6 years of federally financial aid. In the event that all of your financial aid is spent on undergraduate education, there is no federal aid allotted to you for higher education like masters and PhD programs. The New York Times goes on to say, “it is costing students and their parents billions of extra dollars — $15,933 more in cost of attendance for every extra year of a public two-year college and $22,826 for every extra year at a public four-year college. According to data from Temple University and from the University of Texas, two extra years on campus increases debt by nearly 70 percent.”
As much as the complications around graduating suck and create a level of distrust between students and academia, these problems are not exclusive to our lives at DelVal. (I know, I’m sorry) To truly combat them requires a level of initiative, self-advising, and research independently. Which is to say, stop going to advising meetings without any idea of what you should be taking. Stop expecting advisors to plan your life for you. Stop expecting someone to tell you what you have to take; they should but clearly they aren’t. In all of my advising sessions I bring up to date copies of my program evaluation, course catalog, as well as a tentative class schedule for the upcoming semester. When I am prepared it is much easier to confirm which classes I need to take and which I don’t. When my advisor sees that I am prepared and knowledgeable about what is required of me, it is harder to give me unnecessary classes or point me in the wrong direction. It is more than okay to ask for scheduling advice from professors and students that are not your advisor. It is even better to plan ahead a semester and look to see when classes are being offered and when they aren’t, so it isn’t a surprise when that class isn’t offered next year. Being self-reliant and being an active participant in your advising, helps minimize a lot of the issues that ultimately leave students all around the country not graduating on time.
At the end of the day, it is your degree and your money and delaying graduation only strengthens the idea that academia is a money making business that is less concerned with educating and more concerned with how the institution and its systems will sustain. Because of this, it is not in the university’s best interest for you to graduate, they cannot make money off of you when you’re not here; it is yours and therefore, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to make sure they don’t continue to win.