Why is it taking longer to graduate from college?

Date posted: May 6, 2013

More young people are going to college, which many consider good, but they’re also taking more time to get a degree.  More time to graduate means more expense, both for the student as well as for the government.  Why has this trend occurred, and can anything be done about it? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers.

“I’ve been teaching college kids now for over 30 years, and this is something I’ve noticed. My advisees tend to take longer to get through school.

“And we now have a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which provides us some information nationwide, and it’s showing that the proportion of college students who are finishing in four years has dropped, dropped by 25 percent over recent decades.

“So, what I’ve observed in my students is being confirmed with the statistics nationally. Of course the big question is, Why? Interestingly, when researchers in this report have tried to answer that question they have found no statistical report for declines in student preparation, that is the ability of students coming out of high school, as a cause for this.

“Instead, what they have found is that it’s an increase in student work hours that seems to be the most potent reason why students are taking longer to graduate. That is, students are simply working more than they did before while they’re in college.

“Then the question becomes, well, why are they doing that? It could be because they have to work in order to afford college, which, as most people know, has become more expensive, even adjusting for inflation over time. Or it may be that they’re working more because they want to maintain a more elevated lifestyle, perhaps, than you and I did when we were in college. I think what all this says is we need much more research on this issue, but it clearly is an issue.”

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