Postponing graduation

Full time jobs, family commitments and changing university policies are leading U students to spend an average of seven years to earn an undergraduate degree.

According to the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis, the average student will spend upwards of seven years to get a typical four-year bachelor’s degree. Students in fields such as chemical engineering and other hard sciences are taking even longer to graduate, and the shortest graduation time is five years for ballet majors. ??

There are many reasons why students spend six or seven years on an undergraduate degree, said Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski, associate dean of University College.

“Many students get married and then have to worry about employment, which takes away from their ability to go to school full time, and these students are pushed to take even 12 credit hours,” she said.

This trend isn’t unique to the U. Students across Utah are taking longer to graduate, according to a study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which states that over half of all Utah students have not completed their bachelor’s degrees after six years.

More than 60 percent of students reported working at least part time with a 12 credit-hour course load during the Fall 2005 Semester, according to the OBIA.

Utah also has an above-average marriage rate for college students, with nearly one-third of undergraduates either married or engaged.

But it isn’t just students’ commitments to work or family that prevent a four-year graduation. Changing departmental programs and small class offerings also contribute, Aiken-Wisniewski said.

“A lot of individual departments keep changing their programs and requirements, so students are trying to hit a moving target, and it isn’t fair to them,” she said.

The university is trying to help students graduate within a reasonable amount of time, Aiken-Wisniewski said, and if students want to graduate on time, one of the best things they can do is obtain academic advising.

“When students come in for advising, they can set up a plan, and we can help them navigate the changing university policies and help them get into the classes they need to take,”? Aiken-Wisniewski said.

“Students that start hitting the seven-year mark often get discouraged because they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and institutional changes such as new requirements implemented after students enter begin to push that light farther away,” she said.

But it isn’t necessarily a negative thing to spend more time in college, Aiken-Wisniewski said. One of the goals of the U is to help students graduate, but college is about more than just graduation, but learning and getting involved, she added.

“I am probably a more well-rounded person because I took so long to get an undergraduate degree,” said Tiffany Menard, a graduate student in education.

She said spending seven years in college allowed her to explore what she wanted to do, and she wouldn’t have been as happy had she stuck with the original four-year plan.

“The only students who are breezing through college in four years are those that are just going to class; they aren’t working or getting involved, and they are missing out on the fun you can have in college,” Menard said.