Paying for College In Hard Times

Whenever I talk to parents or kids about college there’s one topic that always stuns them.

The topic? Four-year graduation rates at many state universities.

Out here in California, there are lots of schools in the Cal State system where the four-year graduation rates is below 10%. Nationwide the four-year graduation rate at public universities is 28%. For private universities it’s 67%.

I suspect the grad rates are going to deteriorate further thanks to the financial crisis that’s gripping the states.

A story in Inside Higher Ed today discusses the draconian mid-year cuts that state universities in California and New York will have to absorb.

I’m not sure how these schools are going to absorb these cuts, but I know they can’t just jam more kids into classrooms. I was talking to a political science professor at UCLA in September and he complained that UCLA has simply run out of large lecture halls. He said he could add another 100 students in one of his poly sci classes that now contains 150 kids, but all the larger classrooms are completely booked. I found that discussion to be incredibly depressing.

Let me state the obvious here: Now more than ever parents can’t afford their children to linger at a university for an extra one, two or three years.

Here are three things you can do in the face of even further cutbacks at state universities across the country:

1. When evaluating public and private schools check out their four-year grad rates. Strangely enough these statistics are scarce, but you can find them at the Education Trust’s College Results Online.

2. Once enrolled, a student should meet every semester with an adviser at the school to make sure he or she is staying on track and is taking the right courses to graduate in eight semesters. The son of a friend of mine ended up at San Diego State for seven years in part because he waited two years to consult with an adviser after visiting with him as a freshman. It turns out a significant number of courses he had been told to take for his major were wrong.

3. Enroll in required courses as soon as possible since some of these essential classes may only be available once a year, and even worse, could be a prerequisite for higher division classes.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

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