Why Does College Take so Long These Days?

American college students, particularly male students, have been slower and slower to finish college over the past 30 years. A new working paper by John Bound, Michael F. Lovenheim, and Sarah Turner suggests the trend is due to rising costs of education. Demographics and academic preparedness don’t explain the trend, but the authors found?evidence in support of the increasing cost hypothesis: both increasing student-faculty ratios and cohort size are linked to increasing time-to-degree, particularly in “non-top 50 public sector” schools. The authors also found that students are working more hours in response to rising costs. Low-income students and students at less-selective institutions are particularly vulnerable to the trend. (HT: Chris Blattman)[%comments]


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  1. ScottK says:

    It took me 5 years instead of four becuase I changed majors… at least that’s how I rationalize it while ignoring the frat life I was part of in mid 80’s.

    but that’s not really what you’re talking about.

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  2. Melissa Danielle says:

    I returned to college after about 8 years, and I have to say that much of my experience there – taking “core” classes to fulfill degree requirements art school missed – felt extremely irrelevant to someone, like me, who has worked in diverse office settings since graduating high school.

    Being in class with 18-20 year olds who were NOT ready to assume positions with responsibility (I wouldn’t trust them to answer the phone let alone send a professional letter or manage a client, with regard to the way they spoke, wrote essays, and their lack of participation and inability to work in groups), it became clear that colleges and universities need to rethink their role in preparing students for the workfplace.

    I would love to see how the vocational model – training/education in 16-24 months with paid internship/job placement – can be applied to certain degree programs.

    Outside of science, medicine, and law – do students really need 4+ years to be qualified to answer phones, draft business letters, meet deadlines, etc? Because it’s obvious that the current model is not helping them to address this.

    Or maybe we need to advocate for high school reform so that all students entering college were prepared?

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    • Casey says:

      I completely agree. I just graduated with my bachelors in accounting and pretty much everything I learned barely prepared for my job nor did it even matter because I ended up getting trained.

      Unfortunately this is the status quo and employers are obsessed with degrees. Hopefully it will change one day.

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      • dubina says:

        I agree, as well.

        And maybe Obama agrees. See his SOTU speech.

        Time to retool US education.

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  3. Mario Bros. says:

    I see no reason as to why public colleges and universities should still charge students. Students should be able to attend public post-secondary education without costs. The increase in government spending will be repaid by the increase in productivity and innovation produced by the graduates who graduate in four years without debt. If nothing else community colleges nationwide should be free of costs.

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  4. Thomas Myers says:

    Although the costs of contemporary education certain contributes to the time it takes students to complete degrees, I would argue as society stresses the importance a college education, more and more youth attend universities. Universities are more than willing to participate in net widening tactics to collect on social influences which may possibly reduce the quality of the student. As a university accepts more students, requirements and standards for student intelligence and education decrease. Less intelligence less educated students may increase the amount the time necessary to finish school.

    I would argue society stresses and influences university to widen their acceptance net; therefore, reducing the number of students capable of finishing school quickly, or at least in the suggest four year time frame.

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  5. Jacob H says:

    Young men are playing video games instead of doing their college work. That’s why it’s taking so long.

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  6. Zdeno says:

    Vastly expanding the number of students we send to colleges requires digging into the meatier parts of the bell curve. Why would you expect someone of average intelligence and conscientiousness to be able to complete a degree in four years, even if it’s in a watered-down mickey mouse college?

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  7. hanmeng says:

    “The increase in government spending will be” paid by Mario Bros.

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  8. Gary says:

    The incentive for the college is to add as many prerequisites as possible to degree programs. More pre-requisites is equal to more revenue for the college.

    This is in particular true for an science or math based degrees. It is easier for them to add additional classes to those programs.

    This would easily explain the longer time to graduate for male students.

    I remember faculty telling me that it would take 5 years to graduate for an engineering based degree. It hasn’t been possible to graduate in 4 years (without a great deal of extra effort) in those science programs in years.

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