Towards the end of last year there was some discussion amongst the higher education community about extending the degree completion rate measurement—the maximum number of years that are taken into account when calculating the rate at which students complete their degree from an institution—from 150 percent of the intended four years (six years) to 200 percent (eight years). The argument for doing so was that it would better demonstrate how many students graduate either from their first-attended institution or, if we use added data from the national clearinghouse, from another institution.
I am all for measuring student progression and watching progression trends. This information should help campuses assess their current retention-based systems and identify potential gaps for specific majors. However, if we begin to use this as a standard to measure time lines for degree completion, it may prove to be a colossal mistake with massive student completion and cost consequences.
I believe this change would further lower our campus expectations and exacerbate rising barriers to both college access and student success while simultaneously increasing the financial challenges facing college-goers and their families. The six-year standard established decades ago has led to a campus culture that says that graduating in six years is expected and an established norm. For first-time, full-time entering students, our standards should instead be improved to three years for associate’s degrees and five years for bachelor’s degrees. The tougher standard could be critical in encouraging students to focus during this shorter period, complete their degrees, relieve some of their financial burdens, and, most importantly, allow for more students to have the same opportunity.