Millions of high school graduates are encouraged to go to college. Going is good. Finishing is better. A report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says just 54 percent of college students graduate within six years.
Alabama ranks 36th for timely graduations. Less than one quarter of this state's college students get a four year degree in four years. Six is the new four.
"The idea that you can complete you bachelors degree within a four year window really has been with us for a long time," said Gordon Stone, Executive Director of Alabama's Higher Education Partnership.
Stone believes there are many reasons students are taking longer than four years to graduate. He says the primary reason is funding. "One of the things that we recognize is the diminishing about of state funding seen on Alabama for our public universities has caused stress on the budgets of those students," said Stone.
Tyler Peterson is dean of enrollment management Auburn University Montgomery. He says tuition in the state has doubled in the last ten years, and the financial stress keeps students from finishing sooner. "They are having to balance a schedule of classes, work, as well as family. And that leads to a longer graduation time with us," said Peterson.
Class availability is also an issue. Many students say their graduation is delayed because courses are not being offered during the semesters they want to enroll.
Stone says that too boils down to funding. He says the number of classes offered depends heavily on a university's operations and maintenance dollars. "The availability of courses is a function of the availability of resources. If you don't have as much funding available through your O and am , what we call operations and maintenance appropriation, you may offer that class one semester versus two semesters," said Stone.
He says operations and maintenance funding is used to repair buildings, pay for classroom technology and more importantly, pay the salaries of the people who must teach the course. "Sometimes people say 'well you've got all these endowments, so you've got these research grants. Why don't you just use those to offset that?' the level of state funding, which directly impacts O and M, does have an impact on the availability of professors, does have an impact on the availability of classroom," said Stone.
Even against what seem like overwhelming financial odds, universities say they are doing what they can to encourage timely graduations. Starting this fall at Auburn Montgomery, students will take a mandatory twelve-week class to learn time-management and more. "Everything from managing money, to personal relationships, how to interact with a professor, how to study, how to take notes," said Peterson.
At the University of Alabama Birmingham, an online system called GPS allows students to track their credit hours. "Another component of that is early alert system where students that are in academic trouble have an opportunity to track their academic progress. And that early alert will send out to faculty and staff and ask them for their input," said Kimberly Cunningham, director of UAB's Academic Success Center.
For a breakdown of Alabama college graduation rates click on the link below.