Hoping to quell parents’ fears and generate increased interest and revenue, several colleges and universities throughout the nation recently instated a new policy referred to as “four-year degree guarantees.”
According to Alan Schwarz’s Sept. 14 New York Times article, “Pay for Only 4 Years of College. Guaranteed,” the program was initially established in 1991 at the University of the Pacific in California. It has spread to 15 schools including Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Virginia Wesleyan College, California State Polytechnic University and Western Michigan University. “The four-year graduation guarantee is an approach we will see more private colleges take in coming years,” said Tony Pals of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, as quoted in Schwarz’s article.
The four-year degree guarantee is a contract promising that if a student is unable to graduate in four years due to a complication caused by the institution, the college or university will cover the expense of a fifth year.
The policy only applies to cases in which the college or university is at fault; for example, if a student is not able to enroll in required courses or is missing requirements due to poor academic advising. Students who are failing or receiving incompletes in multiple courses, taking numerous semesters off or changing their majors extremely late in the college process would not be exempt from payment for any additional semesters at their college.
According to 2011 U.S. News rankings, Colby ranked number 21 on a list of colleges with the highest four-year graduation rate, with 86 percent of the student body completing all requirements without taking any extra semesters. In order to graduate from the College, students need a minimum of 128 semester credit hours and a 2.00 cumulative grade point average. Of the total credit hours, 64 must be earned in residence, and no more than 16 credit hours may be taken with satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading. In addition, students are expected to fulfill the distribution requirements typical to a liberal arts college and the specific requirements of their majors.
The College’s records show that 86.2 percent of the entering class of 2008 graduated within four years, 89.1 percent within five years, and 89.5 percent within six years, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment William Wilson said. These statistics, however, do not account for the number of students who transfer to other institutions and may still have graduated on time. Records show no difference in graduation rates between those with one or with multiple majors.
Proponents of the four-year degree guarantee program see it not only as a means to settle parents’ minds about the risk of spending significant amounts of money on additional years of undergraduate education, but also as enticement to make colleges more efficient and useful. “We’ve incentivized ourselves to do everything in our power for students to graduate in four years,” Robert J. Alexander said, the associate provost for enrollment at the University of the Pacific, as quoted in Schwarz’s article.
Many view four-year degree guarantees as a practical solution to students becoming lost and overwhelmed in the complications of the collegiate system. Though it is not widespread yet, the concept is quickly gaining prestige and popularity in collegiate circles across the nation.