By Professor Doom
Yes, we all know college is expensive. It’s a simple matter to be told the average costs of a 4 year degree is around $100,000. People entering college (or their parents) get this estimate, and budget accordingly. There’s a problem here, and it’s a big one: a 4 year degree usually takes more than 4 years to get. Time and again I’ve seen students go so far in college…then hit a financial dead end when they find out they need an extra year or two to graduate.
Student: “I’m just 15 hours away from graduating, but my loan money has run out. What am I supposed to do?”
--couldn’t even guess at how many times I’ve heard the like in my decades of teaching.
When it comes to planning for college, the calculators are based around getting the degree in 4 years. If a student needs more time, well then, he either comes up with his own money (har), or takes out extra loans, usually at a much more expensive rate than the original loans.
Do people realize that it’s common to take more than 4 years to get a degree? No, of course not. Administration has laid a series of traps to keep students on campus longer than what they tell enrolling students. It’s pretty well hidden that the “4 year degree” is something of a myth nowadays:
So hidden that most families still unknowingly plan on four years for a bachelor’s degree, said Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which conducts that annual survey of freshmen.
According to the data, there’s a huge gap between “on time” graduation rates at flagship and non-flagship institutions. A flagship institution refers to the legitimate institution most states have, for purposes of education; the non-flagship institutions are generally around to extract money from students.
Is it mean for me to say something like that? Well, 36% of flagship students graduate on time; the rate is 19%, basically half, at non-flagship schools. Accreditation says all accredited schools are legit. Often a flagship school is within a few miles of several other institutions.
Imagine if one doctor cured patients with 4 weeks of treatment, while every other doctor took 6 weeks, and charged patients 50% more. It would be fair to wonder if the “other” doctors were cheating their patients and didn’t have the patients’ best interests at heart, right?
There really needs to be an investigation into why there’s such a huge difference between state schools In the same state. Foolish open admission policies are part of the problem, but realize all it would take is a bit of integrity to fix that issue.
“…many students almost immediately doom themselves to taking longer, since they register for fewer courses than they need to stay on track. Surveys of incoming freshmen in California and Indiana who said they expected to graduate in four years found that half signed up for fewer courses than they’d needed to meet that goal,…”
--this is a critical point: from the very first semester, students screw up the enrollment, costing them one semester, possibly two. Any administrator with any understanding of higher education can tell this by taking 5 seconds to look at what the student signed up for. Why does the gentle reader suppose administration doesn’t have that kind of time?
So, students don’t sign up for enough courses to even give themselves a chance to graduate in 4 years, and I suspect this happens much more often at the non-flagship schools. Wouldn’t schools that operate with integrity be interested in helping students register? Every school that operates with integrity does help students register properly, of course…the problem is only a few schools do this.
Another issue is students take courses that are pointless, further making it difficult for them to graduate on time. Again, administration has a hand here, allowing for irrelevant coursework to be offered on campus, because it sells well. This sort of pandering likewise could easily stop, with the re-introduction of integrity in higher education.
As is so often the case in my researches, community colleges are the worst in this regard. A typical 2 year graduate does so with about 21 more credit hours than he needs. This is almost two full time semesters more than necessary, just to take those worthless credits. It’s probably why a “2 year degree” takes an average of 3.6 years (meanwhile, whole families of homeschooled children are finishing 4 year degrees in this time, while still too young to drive). These excess credits, incidentally add up to 19.2 billion dollars a year wasted in useless tuition costs. Is that enough money to start asking questions about the higher education system?
“…Meanwhile, those courses students are required to take are often not available because of budget cuts. Two-thirds of students at one California State University campus weren’t able to get into their required courses,…”
--two-thirds of the students couldn’t take the useful courses, but the California system has no problem loading many thousands of students into useless, illegal, bogus courses.
Isn’t it amazing that bogus courses are offered in abundance, while “budget cuts” (if anyone can believe such a lie) keep the required courses from being offered. You know, administrative pay is based on how many students they can get/keep on campus. Does anyone else see a conflict of interest in having these people not allow the courses students need to get off campus? Why isn’t this type of question asked more often?
Most state financial-aid programs, meanwhile, cover only four years. “They do not fund a fifth or sixth year,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America and former Indiana commissioner of higher education. “And by that time the parents’ resources and the students’ resources have run out. So that fifth year is where you borrow.”
Gee, what a strange coincidence, the system is set up to slam people deeper into debt. Is it really unfair cynicism on my part to think this isn’t a coincidence? I mean, it’s not cynicism to figure spiderwebs are built by spiders in places likely to catch flying insects. Why is it taboo to consider if the bloodsucking administration is behind the difficulty students have in navigating a 4 year degree in, you know, 4 years? And yet in article after article on this subject, the question never seems to come up.
The cost of all this extra time for a 4 year degree is high:
“…The added cost of just one extra year at a four-year public university is $63,718 in tuition, fees, books, and living expenses, plus lost wages…”
--note that this estimate implies that one extra year costs more than the two previous years put together. Plus lost wages…
Bottom line: if you’re planning on getting a 4 year degree, you need to plan from your very first day on campus how you’re going to do it. Here are three quick tips:
Don’t count on the university to tell what and when you need to take a course. Read the catalogue and plan your degree as early as possible. For example, sometimes a course you need to graduate is only offered in the Fall…that does you no good if you plan to graduate in Spring like everyone plans (again, why would admin do that? I’ve seen many students caught in this kind of trap).
Don’t be tempted to take Harry Potter Sex courses, or Game of Thrones courses, or any of the legion of bogus courses that won’t lead to a degree, but do lead to billions of dollars wasted every year (this is money you’ll have to pay back at some point, plus interest).
If you don’t know what your major is going to be, don’t go. Changing majors can make it basically impossible to graduate in 4 years. You’ll be much better off if you just work in the real world a bit before going to college—you’ll make money and you’ll have a clue what you want to do with your life.
If you are failing college your first year, you should probably take that as a hint not to push on for what will be an expensive degree. I’ve written a whole book detailing how to get your degree, focusing on if you’ve already failed. While failing college is usually a sign that higher education isn’t the place for you, I do offer the book for those that are determined to succeed despite the writing on the wall. I have another book that details how the higher education system was set up this way.
Back to the point, most people are told that $100,000 or so is the average price of a college degree. A more realistic estimate is $160,000, because the majority of students are going to take 5 or more years.