How much is an extra year of college? About $68,153, according to Complete College America.
That figure includes both the cost of extra school and the opportunity cost in not working a full-time job. Yet only 40% of students at four-year schools graduate on time, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Colleges are trying to fix this in a variety of ways. One strategy is to encourage students to take additional credits per semester. For example, Adam State University in Colorado implemented a flat rate for tuition so that students taking 12 credits now pay the same as students taking 18. This removes one potential obstacle for students.
Summer courses can also help. Later this year, Florida International University plans to encourage students to take summer courses. This will allow students more flexibility to have a job and go to school simultaneously, says Elizabeth Bejar, VP for academic affairs.
Clarity around which courses students need to graduate and when they should take them also helps. "Students should be clear on what to do and when, not just handed a book and told to figure it out," says Courtney Brown, VP at the Lumina Foundation. To give students more structure, colleges are increasingly building degree maps and guided pathways.
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Temple University's "Fly in 4" program offers free tuition to students who complete its requirements but still fail to graduate on time because of course-scheduling issues. Students in "Fly in 4" must complete at least 15 credits per semester and meet with an academic advisor each semester, says Ward.
Colleges also use predictive data to understand what is holding students back. Georgia State University's academic advisors are alerted as soon as students register for the incorrect course or get a poor grade in a course, says Ward. By analyzing student data, the university has found that these are two red flags that a student is at risk of dropping out. Advisors reach out to students within 48 hours after receiving the flag to provide any assistance students need.
It's worked. Georgia State's graduation rate has doubled. Students there have also saved money, as they graduate with eight fewer credits hours on average than they did five years ago, according to Timothy Renick, vice provost.
The University of Texas at Austin uses data to identify the 25% of students who are most at risk of not graduating on time. Those students are placed in the University Leadership Network, which pays students to take steps to improve their graduation prospects, including maintaining a certain GPA and attending academic seminars. In 2011, the university's graduation rate went from 50% to 61%, and its goal for this year is 70% (Ward, Wall Street Journal, 6/8).
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