Editorial: Four years, six years — Longer times to earn college degrees hurt Alabama’s taxpayers
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jul 05, 2013 | 2439 views |  0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Many college students and their parents will tell you it is almost impossible to obtain a four-year college degree in four years. In fact, students even have a name for the additional year it takes to complete degree requirements. They call it the “victory lap.”

It appears now that taking only one extra year does represent a victory of sorts. According to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, half of the state of Alabama’s first-time college students takes at least two additional years to graduate.

In other words, a four-year degree is now a six-year degree.

Granted, there always have been students who take longer to finish. A failed course or a changed major delays progress. So does work. Because so many students hold part-time or full-time jobs, they often do not have the time to take the class load necessary to stay on track.

Accrediting agencies that give validity to a college’s programs often require a student to take additional courses for certification. Because underfunded colleges can’t offer specialized required courses every semester, a student who misses a course when it is taught, or cannot get into the overcrowded class, has to wait until the course is taught again. That wait is sometimes a year — or more.

Cynics claim that colleges purposely offer fewer required courses to keep students enrolled longer, but there is only anecdotal evidence to support this and nothing to suggest it is a widespread practice.

Although the cost to students and parents is widely acknowledged, not much attention has been paid to the cost taxpayers must bear. Despite the fact that Alabama ranks fourth nationally in cuts to higher-education funding, state colleges and universities are heavily subsidized by citizens whose only connection to a campus is loyalty to its football team. Every year beyond the traditional four that it takes a student to graduate is more money out of the taxpayer’s pocket.

In addition, every year beyond the traditional four is also a year in which the student is not fully in the workforce paying taxes that, among other things, will fund higher education and lessen the cost to other citizens.

It would be far better for legislators to restore the funding that has been cut and provide additional money so that a four-year degree could actually be achieved in four years on a more regular basis. It might cost a little more now, but it would save money in the long run.
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