Blaming College Students for Not Graduating in Six Years

I know a bunch of parents who expect their teenagers to graduate from college in four years.

Many of them are dreaming. Forty percent of  students can’t even graduate from college in six years!

Colleges and universities often blame students for this dismal record. But if it’s the kids who are slackers, how come schools with similar academic profiles experience wildly different graduation rates?

In my last post, I wrote about a new study from the American Enterprise Institute that illustrated how peer institutions are graduating their students at strangely different rates.

I want to provide some examples from the study. Let’s take a look at schools with some of the best and worst grad rates in the highly competitive category. According to the authors, a school is classified as highly competitive if it admits students with average grades of “B” to “B+.” The students at these schools submitted median freshman SAT scores of 620 to 654 and scores of 27 to 28 on the ACT.

Among these highly competitive schools, Babson College and Mount Holyoke enjoyed the best six-year grad average at 89%, with the University of California, Berkeley (88%) and University of Michigan (88%) tied for second.

Now let’s look at some of the highly competitive schools that are in the cellar with their six-year grad rates: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (44%), St. John College (New Mexico campus) (56%), New College of Florida (56%) and SUNY Stony Brook University (59%).

I’d urge you to take a look at the study because it also contains tables that compare grad rates of schools that share the same geographic area. That’s particularly helpful since 56% of college freshmen attend school within 100 miles of their home. Let me state the obvious here: Most families can’t afford four years at many colleges and universities much less six years or more.

So when evaluating any school be sure to ask about its graduation track record. The easiest place to find four-, five- and six-year grad rates is at the Education Trust’s
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author  of The College Solution and also a college blogger at

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  1. Cynthia – I don’t meant to be rude – but are you serious? Not graduating in 6 years!! How about graduating in 2 years? Why sit in a boring philosophy class for 3-4 months when you can get the same credit with C.L.E.P. (College Level Exam Placement). My daughter has completed 57 hours in 3 semesters using on-line, CLEP, and Classroom for sciences (which have labs) and math classes. She started at 16 while still in high school (home schooled) to get dual credit. She has a 4.0 and has been accepted at a top Nursing School beginning in the fall. This saved me 10’s of 1000’s of dollars and cut the time required by 1 year minimum.

    If you want to look at an innovative program that has helped over 2,000 students, check into – it’s a guided program that can get most (motivated) students through college in 2 years and then they spend the next 2 getting an advanced degree.

    If a parent/student wants to spend 6 years and $100,000 to have the “experience”, then
    that’s a personal choice.

    Personally I’d prefer my children to skip the (wasted) experience and get prepared for life.

    Check the web site. Regards. Alan

  2. Really glad to see this Blog. Required labs are one reason many students are short on credit requirements for graduation. Required lab classes may be twice as long as the 3 credit course it accompanies, yet require the same amount of homework and testing, and then are only good for 1 credit. This fills up the schedule, yet results in students having to take fewer credits.

    Adviser error is another reason students fail to graduate in four years. They are hard to reach (some almost impossible unless parents step in), assign students to classes they don’t need, and fail to spend the time necessary to make sure the student is on the right track. Degree requirements are often so confusing that parent can’t help, so the students often do the best they can only to find out later they didn’t take what they needed.

    Also students I know say that many of the classes are repetitive. So much so that some students don’t even attend some of their classes. All of this needlessly adds to the cost to students and burnout. And that’s just for a bachelors – they need a masters or doctorate to compete? I think the colleges are after as much money as they can get. Leaving many students broke and without their degree.

    1. Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks for your observations about the challenges of graduating in four years. I didn’t know about the lab issue. As for the advising problem, I always tell teens to check out the advising program before they select a school. Getting bad advice, as you say, can push back your grad date by years! It’s outrageous.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy