The typical Undergraduate student now takes more than 5 years to graduate

When I went to College most students that were serious graduated in 4 years. Recent data from a report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center  shows that students now are taking more than 5 years (5.1 average) to receive their bachelor’s degrees. The time period studied was for students who graduated between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. The report also looked at how long students who were obtaining an Associate’s degree took and that average was 3.3 years.  The time required for successful degree attainment could be influenced by the pathway the student followed as well as by factors, such as stop outs and less than full-time enrollment status.

Traditionally, students were considered successful when they graduated “on time,” which meant within two years or four years at a two- or four-year degree-granting institution, respectively. However, for a majority of postsecondary students, time-to-degree completion has increased over the past 30 years. The change in traditional timelines for college completion can become expensive when viewed in terms of college costs, taxpayers’ subsidies, and the wages students forfeit with each additional semester of enrollment. Although the majority of postsecondary students are now taking longer to complete college, extended periods of enrollment are even more common for students who are academically unprepared at the start.

Previous research highlighted various complex factors linked to increases in time to degree. They include reduced institutional resources available to students; rising college costs); remediation requirements; taking more courses than is required, enrolling in non-degree classes, and difficulty in getting required courses; changing majors; need for employment;; and reduced course loads; among other factors.

The report (linked above)  builds upon the previous findings and expands them to include enrollments across multiple institutions (as opposed to considering only terms from the same school where the degree was earned) and provides the outcomes for different subgroups of students by age, gender, and enrollment intensity. Overall, a number of goals guided the report: 1) explore the various enrollment pathways of students who received a bachelor’s and/or an associate degree, as growing numbers of students transfer and graduate elsewhere; 2) determine how these pathways influenced the time required for successful degree attainment; and 3) examine the effects of the growing prevalence of student enrollment behaviors that include periods of stop out and enrollments at less than full-time status.

Using student-level data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), the authors measured time to degree with two different metrics: 1) the time that elapsed between students’ first term date and degree award date and 2) the total time of active enrollment. Understanding enrollment pathways can help administrators develop interventions to help students more successfully and quickly complete a degree. Reducing time to degree will likely increase graduation rates, as well as other costs related to extended time in college. However, the authors also acknowledge that a longer time to degree may not be solely in control of the institutions or policymakers. It may also be an effect of the changing economic, social, and cultural circumstances of students. For this reason, their  hope is that the potential impact of the report is not limited to developing measures to reduce time to degree. We would also like it to provide a means by which policymakers gain insight into better serving the needs of students who are not on the traditional path and avoid considering them to be “failures” simply because they took a longer time to finish.

The report includes some great stats and charts looking at statistics for men, women, age ranges, etc. For Counselors, this data can be used to show your students that taking Dual Enrollment Courses in High School can really benefit them in helping cut their time in College. Shaving 1 to 2 semesters can save them thousands of dollars.