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More Time in College Linked to Tight Money

It does indeed take longer for students to get their bachelor's degree these days— and it comes down to money.

A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research compares college outcomes of two high school classes from 1972 and 1992. It found that about 58 percent of the students from 1972 received their B.A. degrees within four years of finishing high school, while only 44 percent of the 1992 high school cohort did so.

However, there was a difference in time-to-degree rates depending on the type of institution. It took longer for students enrolled at less-competitive four-year public institutions and at community colleges to graduate than those at the top-ranked universities.

But the big question is why. Why does it take students more time to get that diploma?

The study looks at several explanations: Students are less academically prepared; increased demand and cuts in college resources cause reductions in course offerings and extend time to degree; or the rising cost of tuition forces students to work more and take fewer credits at a time.

There was no evidence that changes in student demographics or incoming academic preparation were to blame for the extra time-to-degree. Rather, it came down to resources. The increase in student-faculty ratios explained some of the extra time needed to graduate. Also, less money available per student at institutions played a role. Finally, when it costs more to go to school, the money has to come from somewhere. The study found that students were working more to cover education costs and that meant it took longer to get through school.

These findings were not uniform across campuses, and the study notes an increased stratification of resources among colleges and universities.

It will be interesting to see the response to this research.

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