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Colleges Encouraging On-Time and Early Graduation

While students helplessly watch the cost of tuition soar, they do have control over another part of the college-cost equation: how many years they are in school.

Consumer-savvy families are starting to ask colleges about the likelihood of graduation in four years—or even earlier. Hanging around campus an extra year or two is not as appealing as it once was with the ever-increasing cost of attending (about $17,000 for tuition, room and board at a public four-year college for in-state students and $29,500 at a private four-year nonprofit, according to the College Board).

In Ohio, the 2012-13 budget requires public universities to pave the way for three-year baccalaureate degrees. The goal is to transition 10 percent of programs to three-year degrees in 2012 and 60 percent by 2014.

The Ohio approach does not reduce the number of credits needed for a degree, but does encourage students to take advantage of choices in high school to put them on the fast-track. Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, career-technical credit transfer, and early-college high school are programs that Ohio is pushing to get students on an accelerated three-year college plan.

Currently, 56 percent of students in Ohio public universities complete their bachelor's degree within six years, according to the Ohio board of regents. The hope is that the initiative will help clear hurdles that students may encounter on the path to on-time graduation, and the shortened time frame will save families money.

Campuses are understanding the appeal of a four-year degree and adopting policies to get students on a fast track. An article in The Washington Post yesterday highlighted colleges that are setting goals to improve on-time graduation and succeeding, such as the University of Texas at Austin.

Nationally, fewer than half of students graduate in four years at 33 of the 50 state flagship schools, the Post noted.

State-level funding cuts in higher education, however, can make it hard for some colleges to offer enough sections of required courses to allow students to get through on time or early, complicating completion efforts.

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