The majority of graduating students at CU-Boulder are obtaining their degrees in four years, according to the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis.
This is contrary to a recent study published from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The NBER study said that, “completion of the baccalaureate degree has increased markedly in the United States over the last three decades.”
The authors of the NBER study, John Bound, Michael F. Lovenheim and Sarah Turner contend that most students needing more time to get their bachelors are at public colleges that aren’t considered among the top schools in the nation. According to their citation of the 2005 U.S. News and World Report, CU is among the top 50 nationally ranked public schools. According to the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, the median time for an undergraduate degree from CU-Boulder in 2009, for a student who did not change schools or colleges, is four years.
Some of the reasons for the increased amount of time in earning a degree proposed by the authors, such as students working long hours to pay for a degree that is subsequently harder to get, are common among students in Boulder.
Pasha Minallah, a 29-year-old senior music major from India, says that part of the reason he needed five years for his degree was because he had to be consistently working in order to stay in the U.S.
“Yes, most definitely,” Minallah said of his work schedule keeping him from a four-year degree. “If I stop working in this country then I can’t stay anymore. Education is secondary. I could only take a max of 12-15 (credit) hours. Any more than that, I would kill myself.”
Minallah also said that his degree program required he take a certain number of voice lessons. If he had wanted to do it in four years he would have had to take extra voice lessons per semester.
“I wasn’t willing to do that,” Minallah said. “It would have really consolidated it so I wouldn’t have been able to do anything I liked.”
What Bound, Lovenheim and Turner found is that there is no evidence that “changes in the college preparedness” affects the time to degree completion. Despite this finding, one student said she felt her high school adequately groomed her for college. In fact, it was being over-prepared that has postponed her graduation date.
Lyrana Hughes, a 20-year-old sophomore international affairs major says she came from a math and science magnet high school that more than prepared her for college level classes.
“The core requirements are basically imposed on the students,” Hughes said. “I understand why they’re imposed on students because they want to have really well rounded education, but having 13 natural sciences credits is a little unnecessary. Oh yeah, that’s definitely why I need five years [to graduate].”
Nikki Smith, on the other hand, a 21-year-old junior broadcast production major, said that while she took honors classes in high school, she still has to take fewer credits per semester in order to study and keep up.
“I have a job and a band, and I find my social life important because I get stressed really easily,” Smith said. “If I didn’t take a break I would probably have a heart attack.”
Finally, the authors did find results that “suggest that declines in collegiate resources in the less-selective public sector increased time to degree,” according to the paper’s abstract.
Such resources included the student-faculty ratio and enrollment increases, the latter of which can decrease resources per student.
Between fall 2008 and fall 2009 enrollment at CU increased by 1.4 percent, according to the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis.
But even if enrollment is up at CU and state funding is down, there doesn’t seem to be any changes in graduation rates.
“We haven’t really seen any difference in time to degree or retention rates,” said Blake Redabaugh, a 33-year-old data analyst for Institutional Research in Planning and Budget and Analysis.
Ultimately, what seems to be one of the biggest reason students need more time to graduate is the fact that many switch majors or come in undeclared.
For the fiscal year 2009, the median time to an undergraduate degree for a student who started undeclared was 4.3 years.
“Well, there’s just this lack of understanding of what they want to do,” Hughes said. “So they’re going to take their time, feeling it out, shopping around, which I think is a total natural thing to do.”
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.firstname.lastname@example.org.