One-third of Rutgers students do not graduate in 4 years
Although a bachelor's degree is often associated with four years, more than one-third of Rutgers students need more time to graduate.
In 2015, about 59 percent of students graduated in four years, 77 percent graduated in five years and 80 percent graduated within six years of entering college, said Susan Lawrence, Vice Dean of Undergraduate Education for the School of Arts and Sciences and professor in the Department of Political Science. Compare this to 2009, when the numbers were similar.
There can be a lot of reasons why students do not graduate on time, said Petal Gadsden, an academic and financial counselor for the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program at Rutgers.
Many students have responsibilities, such as jobs or family obligations, that make it hard to take on a full schedule. Add to that the price tag tacked onto college, Gadsden said students may find it difficult to reach the 120 credits needed in order to graduate.
“(The) first thing I think that hinders a lot of students from graduating within four years is the cost,” Gadsden said. “Most of our students are working, and going to school so that does hinder on students being able to take a full load of 15 or even 18 credits.”
Falling under this category, Michael Collado, a School of Arts and Sciences junior in his fourth year in college, said he has three years worth of credits.
Collado started his first two years in college at Pennsylvania State University while also working to be in the United States Air Force. He then transferred to Rutgers because of money issues, and took the Fall 2015 semester off to work.
Collado, who started Rutgers as a computer engineering major, "did a 180" and switched to the criminal justice path later on. Like many students, Collado's switch placed his graduation day further in the future.
Gadsden echoed this sentiment, and said students may enter school wanting to be a doctor, but often change their mind later on.
“Another big portion of it is knowing what they want, but changing their career path, starting with one major, and then moving into another major can add time,” Gadsden said.
The University is working to make sure students graduate in four years, Lawrence said.
“We are working to increase that even more, and improve the percentage of students that graduate in four years,” Lawrence said. “We rank very well in the state, the two major schools that run ahead of us are Princeton and The College of New Jersey.”
Seven of the University’s Big Ten peers have four and six-year graduation rates that are lower than Rutgers, she said, noting Pennsylvania State University, The Ohio State University, Indiana State University and the University of Minnesota.
Rutgers' goal is to have all students graduate within four years, she said.
“In an ideal world, the data would show that (all) students graduate in four years,” Lawrence said. “But there are number of reasons why it’s extraordinarily difficult to get to 100 percent.”
For financial reasons, and with attending a $26,008 per year school, Gadsden said students need to know what it is going to cost to stay in school longer.
“I have a motto that I say, the longer you stay in the harder it is get out," he said.
But staying in school longer comes with positives and negatives, Gadsden said, referring to the opportunity for students to improve their grades or expand their experiences when extending their stay at Rutgers beyond four years.
“If that extra time makes you have a better GPA, allows you to have more experience — whether it’s internship, research — if it makes you more ready for the next step out, then you should definitely be looking into planning your program out into five years," he said.
In the future, Collado said it will be more commonplace for students to graduate in six years.
“There’s a lot more majors coming out and a lot more career opportunities out there. It creates a lot more variety,” Collado said.
But Lawrence believes that Rutgers' four-year graduation rates will increase and that the school will improve general advising to ensure students efficiently plan out their college paths.
“I’m really happy to say that graduating in more than four years has not become more common, indeed it has become less common,” Lawrence said. “Ten years ago only about 49 percent of students graduated in four years, and now we are up to 59 percent.”
Christopher Bohorquez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.