In their latest report, The Four-Year Myth, Complete College America and its Alliance of States provides evidence to support the need for the Finish in Four campaign, launched recently by the Student Body Presidents of Mississippi’s eight public universities to encourage their fellow students to know their plans and graduate on time.
Using the mantra, “Know Your Plan,” the Student Body Presidents encourage students to speak with their academic advisers to make certain they understand the number of hours each semester to earn a degree in four years. Taking a maximum of 12 credit hours each semester equates to at least five years before earning a bachelor’s degree. If a student takes an average of 15.5 credit hours each semester, the time to a degree is reduced to four years.
This kind of targeted advising is one of the essential elements of Guided Pathways to Success (GPS), a set of strategies that Complete College America recommends to provide students with the most direct route to graduation. Utilizing GPS, majors are organized into a semester-by-semester set of courses that lead to on-time completion, saving students and their families the time and money associated with extended time on campus.
Mississippi is one of the 35 states that comprise Complete College America’s Alliance of States, which is leading the country by enacting powerful reforms to increase college completion and close attainment gaps.
“Increasing attainment levels at both our community colleges and universities is crucial for economic development and attracting the kinds of jobs we want in Mississippi,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “While we all face challenges in this area, our Alliance of States is working hard to move the needle on college completion and I am proud that Mississippi is a part of that effort.”
Higher education leaders and elected officials are focused on addressing this issue. The Mississippi Education Achievement Council, which consists of representatives of the Mississippi Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the State Institutions of Higher Learning, Mississippi’s Community and Junior Colleges, the Mississippi State Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the Mississippi Economic Council, has been instrumental in developing recommendations for transfer policies and articulation agreements to create a seamless credit transfer process between the community colleges and the public universities.
“The Education Achievement Council brings all levels of education, policymakers and the business community into the discussion, which makes solutions easier to find,” said Dr. Jim Borsig, Co-Chair of the EAC and president of Mississippi University for Women. “Our students face challenges and obstacles both inside and outside the classroom, so it’s important that we break these barriers to completion and help each student stay on track and graduate on time.”
Mississippi University for Women’s Student Success Center brings together under one umbrella a variety of services that work to ensure the success of all students. From exploring majors and careers to finding a tutor, the Center provides students with the advice, feedback and strategies necessary for academic success.
“Mississippi Public Universities are focused on this issue,” said Dr. Glenn Boyce, Associate Commissioner of Academic and Student Affairs for Mississippi Public Universities. “Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work at eight very different universities, we have used a multi-pronged approach that incorporates both state-level policy changes and assisting universities in developing campus-specific programs and services.”
Delta State University recently received a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase access and completion for underrepresented, underprepared or low-income students. The grant will be used to bolster the offerings at the Student Success Center and to develop and demonstrate a holistic and integrated approach to increase persistence to degree completion.
Mississippi Community Colleges are also promoting graduation and completion on their campuses. In November, chapters of Phi Theta Kappa, the community college honor society, held events on campuses across the state to promote the groups C4 Initiative, the Community College Completion Challenge. Events included speakers on campuses, students signing commit to complete pledges, faculty and staff completion signing ceremonies, college transfer and career fairs, increased emphasis on the advising process, scavenger hunts, wellness fairs and a 5K run/walk.
Complete College America’s report reveals that the vast majority of full-time American college students do not graduate in four years, costing them and their families tens of thousands of dollars in extra college-related expenses, as well as lost wages from delaying entry into the workforce. The report also points to spikes in debt in years 5 and 6 and shows that the overwhelming majority of public four-year colleges graduate less than half of their students on time.
In the U.S.:
- At public 2-year institutions, 5% of full-time students pursuing associate degrees graduate on time. An extra year costs $15,933 in tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other expenses. In addition, students give up approximately $35,000 in lost wages by graduating late. The total cost: $50,933.
- At public 4-year institutions, 19% (non-flagship) and 36% (flagship/very high research) of full-time students graduate on time. An extra year costs $22,826 in tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other expenses. In addition, students give up $45,327 in lost wages by graduating late. The total cost: $68,153.
- Only 50 out of the more than 580 public four-year institutions we reviewed have on-time graduation rates at or above 50% for their full-time students.
- 14% of full-time students pursuing associates degrees at 2-year institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in 2.6 years with 71.7 credits (rather than the customary 60 credits). Each extra year for a student seeking an associate degree costs $50,055 in school-related expenses and lost wages.
- 17% of full-time students at 4-year non-flagship institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in 4.9 years with 136 credits, rather than the customary 120 credits.
- 23% of full-time students at 4-year flagship/very high research institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in 4.8 years with 131.1 credits, rather than the customary 120 credits. Each extra year for a student seeking a bachelor’s degree costs $65,818 in school-related expenses and lost wages.
“Our community colleges recognize the importance of our students graduating on time. According to Complete College America, it takes someone 1.8 years to earn a Certificate and 2.6 years to earn an Associate degree from a Mississippi community college. Both of these figures are better than the national average,” said Dr. Eric Clark, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board. “By graduating in a timely manner, our students are able to either enter the workforce quickly or transfer to a university to continue their education. Both of these outcomes benefit the state as well as the student. We are committed to helping our students achieve their academic goals and save time and money doing so.”
The Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) strategy recommended by Complete College America creates a partnership between students and institutions. Students commit to a structured schedule of courses and elective offerings that represent the shortest distance to completion. In return, institutions provide clear degree maps, closely monitor student progress and guarantee that the necessary courses will be available when they are needed.
“Student loan debt has for the first time topped one trillion dollars – more than credit card and auto loan debt combined,” said Complete College America President Stan Jones. “Our Alliance of States is committed to shining a light on on-time graduation rates and pursuing reforms that increase college completion and shorten the time to degree. We know that the best strategy to make college more affordable is to ensure many more students graduate and graduate on time.”
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