Taking the slow lane to graduation

Fewer than half of the students at state colleges and universities earn bachelor’s degrees in six years or less, West Virginia legislators learned last week.

What should be most upsetting about the report is that some state leaders seem content to increase the percentage of students gaining degrees in that length of time. What ever happened to four-year college careers?

At least Mountain State educators and lawmakers can take some solace in the knowledge this is not a problem only here. Nationally, just 59 percent of college and university students earn degrees within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Legislators learned about the West Virginia numbers through a report from the state Higher Education Policy Commission. It provided six-year graduation rates for every state college and university.

West Virginia University topped the list, with a 56 percent rate.

This is nothing new. Six years for a “four-year” degree has become the standard throughout the United States. West Virginians have been aware of that for years.

But why does it take so many students so long to earn bachelor’s degrees? That information could help state institutions move back toward a more reasonable time frame for a four-year degree – say, four years.

Colleges and universities have complained for years that many of their incoming freshmen are not prepared for higher education work. Legislators were told this week that nearly 26 percent of West Virginia high school graduates enrolling in state colleges and universities require “development courses.” Such classes, formerly referred to as “remedial,” get freshmen up to college speed in subjects on which they need help.

That is a concern, of course – but it is far from the only reason many college students struggle.

No one can do anything productive about getting more students out of college sooner without knowing why so many stay for so long. The HEPC should look into that to provide guidance that could help improve the situation.