May 02, 2017

One Strategy to Keep College Costs Down: Graduate In 4 Years

As your seniors are heading out the door this spring to pursue higher education, this would be a valuable required reading.

“Six Reasons You May Not Graduate On Time (And What To Do About It)” From NYT:

Graduating from a four-year college in four years may sound like a fairly straightforward venture, but only 41 percent of students manage to do it.

That matters. The longer it takes, the less likely a student is to make it to graduation: A quarter of students drop out after four years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and most say it’s because of money. Cost, indeed, is a major issue for many families — in-state tuition and fees run $8,940 on average at public institutions, $28,308 at private ones. Many of those who finish in five or six years have either unnecessarily drained their parents’ bank accounts or end up in a lot more debt.

Yes, I know they will look at you and say, “But I plan on being one of the 41%!” But like Lake Wobegon, they can’t all be above average. So, have them identify what they think their risk factors are among these six:

  • Working overtime: Quit after 25 hours. “About 40 percent of undergraduates work 30 hours a week or more, though a new study finds that more than 25 hours can get in the way of passing classes, especially for low-income students. Only 45 percent of students who work more than that are able to keep their grade-point averages above 3.0, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The percentage goes down as the hours go up.”
  • The 12 Credit Fallacy: Take 15. “Most colleges define a full-time course load as 12 credits a semester, which is, not coincidentally, the ceiling for receiving the maximum Pell grant and most state financial aid. But degrees usually require 120 credits. Do the math — most students don’t, and it’s difficult to catch up: You need 15 credits a semester on average to get through in four years.”
  • Transferring: You’ll Lose, Usually. “One reason is the difficulty of transferring credits from another university or a community college. A third of students transfer at one point in their college careers. Nearly 40 percent of them get no credit for any of the courses they have completed and lose 27 credits on average — or about a year of school, according to a 2014 federal study.”
  • Major Problem: Don’t Veer Off Course. “Picking courses can make students feel like kids in a candy store — there are so many possibilities. The process is overwhelming, with thousands of classes. “Archaeology of Human Origins” may sound interesting, but if you wait too long to focus on your economics major, you may not get in all the requirements you need. The problem is magnified if a prerequisite is offered only in the fall. Missing one means waiting a full year. And what if it’s full? Expect even more delays if you change majors.”
  • No Social Life: Join Something. “Some students slowly disengage because they never really feel part of a college community. Social isolation and depression can affect academic progress, especially for students living away from home for the first time. Studies have found that students who don’t become involved in campus life, whether through friendship networks, clubs or sports, are more likely to drop out.’
  • Falling Behind: Three Strikes And …“Many of our students did great in high school, but they come here and don’t realize that you can’t just study the night before for a test,” said Zulmaly Ramirez, an academic advocate for first-year students at the University of South Florida. “They used to spend 80 percent of their academic time in class and 20 percent on homework.” In college, that’s reversed. (One U.S.F. effort: an app called “Cold Turkey” that blocks social media for an hour or two so students can study without disruption.)”


  • Using the list above, rank order your risk factors from 1-6 with 1 being the risk you worry most about.
  • Identify concrete strategies to help you address these risks head-on.


Looking for more lessons and project ideas to assist your students? Check out our Paying for College Unit for a potpourri of ideas to engage your students to tackle this challenging decision!


Interested in more activities to help your students with budgeting for college? Check out this NGPF Activity: Create A Monthly College Budget


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About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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