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Rachel Responds

Making the most of obtaining a four-year degree

Rachel Woodman

February 3, 2012

Alex asks: I’ve noticed quite a large amount of people are spending over four years trying to complete their degree. In contrast, most incoming freshmen believe they will be out in no more than four. I don’t know if there’s been a shift in degree requirements or just the general perception being off.

If you’re the average student you likely thought about what college you were going to go to throughout high school. You might have questioned if you should go to the college your friends were at or the one with the best program. Maybe you chose your college for the program or a college that was close to home that was as far away as possible.

Invariably you did some work to get to this college (unless you enlisted the expertise of “Super Mom” or some smuck who lost a bet) and did research, filled out forms, visited universities, and asked current students or alumni about their experiences. All of this hard work resulted in your placement here at River Falls. Now that you’ve done all the work to get here are you about to spend four years trying to leave? Of course you are! But is it likely you will succeed in flying the coop Falcon style just as quickly as you flew in? No.

According to U.S. News, in a 2010 survey of 1,266 schools nationwide, an average of only 40 percent of students enrolled in a four-year program graduated within that time. UW-System’s 2009-10 Informational Memorandum reported that only 65.2 percent of UW-System students who enrolled full-time in fall 2003 graduated within six years, only 55.2 percent of UW-River Falls students graduated within six years without transferring, and only 22.9 percent accomplished that in four.

A variety of factors can be attributed to what keeps a student from graduating within four years. Alex questioned if a shift in degree requirements has occurred or if the general perception about four-year degrees is misled. The answer is perception.

Research on this topic shows that university degree requirements have not changed but the expectations by employers for college graduates have. Employers want to see experience in the individuals they hire, causing students to begin seeking out experience before they’ve finished their degree.

Part-time jobs, internships, student organizations, community work and study abroad programs all take away from class time. Some students may choose to be active in many programs and opportunities to the detriment of their grades. Part-time students expect to spend more than four years but what full-time students may not realize is that “full-time” status does not equal “four-year completion.” Students cannot take 12 credits a semester and expect to graduate on time. According to institutional research found on the UWRF website, the average degree at this university has 137.9 credits required for completion. If you only took 12 credits per semester that would mean not graduating for 5.75 years!

If you’re in love (or “like-like” if love is too strong a word) with red and black and falcons and squirrels, the easiest way to lengthen your time here is to take less than 15 credits a semester, wait until the last minute to register for classes, travel abroad, take a semester off and/or change your major.

If you’re not so keen on staying forever, you may be wondering how you can avoid being ensnared in Wisconsin’s winter wonderland for an extra season or six. The easiest way to avoid this is: plan, plan, plan. Take on at least 15 credits and consider summer or J-Term classes. Meet with your advisor and work with him or her to establish a solid graduation plan. Do not wait until the last minute to register for classes! If you do, a required course may fill up before you get in and you may end up taking classes you don’t even like in order to maintain full-time status. Also, show up to class! Bad grades could result in you retaking the class, adding more time to your stay here. Do not wait until the last minute to choose a minor! Sometimes you can “double-dip the chip” so to speak, and double-count classes in your major and minor. With careful planning and using these tips your four-year degree can stay closer to four years.

Thanks for the excellent question, Alex! Anyone may submit questions to questionsforrachel@live.com. Please send them right away if you’d like to see them in the Student Voice next week and don’t forget to like “Rachel Responds” on Facebook.

Rachel Woodman is a senior majoring in marketing communications and minoring in journalism. She loves to work hard, play hard, and use clichés! Look for her Facebook page “Rachel Responds” and email her your questions or topic ideas to QuestionsForRachel@live.com.