According to this news item from the Hechinger Report, 90 percent of college freshmen believe they’ll graduate in four years, but only 48 percent do so. For some groups and organizations, including one called Complete College America (CCA), that low four-year graduation rate is a national crisis.
Organized in 2009, CCA’s mission is to “significantly increase the number of Americans with . . . college degrees.” To that end, it identifies measures that encourage faster degree completion, such as requiring students to take 15 credit hours per semester.
CCA recently conducted a study to determine the opportunity cost related to a student’s fifth year of undergraduate study. The price tag for spending that extra, unnecessary year in college: $63,718. That amount includes tuition, fees, and, of course, the salary that could have been earned in that year.
My takeaway: I’m not sure that low four-year completion rates are a national problem, but more important to me is that the CCA is conducting opportunity cost analysis only on the back end of the collegiate experience. That same analysis should be conducted by all prospective college students, long before they step foot on a college campus. They should consider the tuition they’ll have to pay, the money they will borrow, their career interests, their likely major, etc.
For some students, the results will reveal that spending time in college is worthwhile. For many others, the costs may be too high, and a different route may be more appropriate.
For years, high school students, parents, and counselors were encouraged to ignore those costs altogether. Attending college was a no-brainer. Now that that general consensus is no longer quite so “general,” and data regarding average debt loads, post-graduation salaries, etc., are becoming widely accessible and part of the mainstream discussion, I suspect that such opportunity cost analysis will become the new no-brainer.