How graduating on time pays off
June 28th, 2012
06:12 AM ET

How graduating on time pays off

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN)  If you’re planning on getting a four-year degree at college, a newly released study suggests you shouldn’t take five or six years to get it.

An additional year or two could cost you in more ways than the extra tuition.

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that people who earned bachelor’s degrees within four years saw, on average, higher wages than those who earned similar degrees within six years.

The difference between the wages of four-year and six-year graduates:  about $6,000.

But it still pays to get an undergraduate degree, even if it takes six years to do it.  Those who earned a bachelor’s within six years made about $6,000 more than students who attended college but didn't earn a degree at all.

The study considered several reasons for the differences in salaries, including the head start that four-year graduates had in the workforce.  The authors also noted that some employers may see a difference in aptitude between those who graduate on time and those who don’t.

According to U.S. News and World Report, most American college students – around 60 percent – don’t graduate on time.  And an extra year of tuition alone sets them back more than $8,000 at the average public university, while private school (take a deep breath) costs an average of $42,000 per year.

While it's true that many Americans place a priority on getting a college degree, millions of future workers may not need it.  A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education estimates that only a third of new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 will require a bachelor's or higher degree.

Almost as many of those new jobs – 30 percent – will require an associate's degree or a "post-secondary occupational credential."

Today's registered nurses, who earn a median salary of over $65,000, may have an associate’s degree.  Same requirement for dental hygienists, who can earn more than that.

Construction supervisors, electricians and brickmasons, whose education may be acquired through a formal apprenticeship, can earn anywhere from $45,000 to over $60,000.

Still, many businesses won't even interview applicants who don't have college degrees.  There's a great deal of pride involved in graduating from a college or university.  And for many students, there's a rite of passage in what the college experience provides.

Just keep this in mind if you're setting foot on a college campus this fall:  It could turn out that the less time it takes you to graduate, the better.

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Filed under: After High School • Carl Azuz • College • Graduation
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Braden

    I am about to graduate after 2.5 years with a double major in math & computer science.

    It seems to me that far too many students have no clue what they want to do and then scramble to find a major in their junior year. AP classes and community college courses during high school served three purposes in that they are allowing me to graduate in such a short period of time, gave me the requisite visibility to what I truly find fascinating, as well as saving me money. If students are engaged and are willing to push themselves starting at an earlier age, then the issue of wasting money (both directly and indirectly vis-a-vis opportunity cost) becomes nullified.

    July 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  2. julia

    It's hard to graduate on time when so many students have to take a year or more of remedial non-credit high school level classes before starting college level courses. Many public universities have reduced the number of actual college level classes in favor of high school level courses. That tells me a lot about the quality of students being admitted to public universities. There's too many students admitted to college who would better off going to a good trade school. Not everyone is college material. Employers look at more than just a diploma or how long it took to graduate. Many employers won't even consider an applicant with a low college GPA.

    Seems like many of these universities are using up a lot of tax payer dollars trying to re-teach what students were unable to learn in high school. Rather than raising taxes, perhaps the solution is to not admit students who are incapable of college level work.

    July 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • gerald

      The simple solution is lower the standards some more. By lowering the standards enough, everybody graduates on time and we can even get rid of affirmitive action.

      July 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
      • Clarissa

        I agree. I attend University of Texas and everyone I know has taken more then 4 years to graduate. Luckily I am graduating this May 2013 ONLY because I took dual-enrollment in high school and have been taking at least 1 summer class every year. STILL I am barely meeting the requirements with no extra hours to spare. The obvious solution would be to lower standards. For instance I need four semester of Spanish. That's at least 12 hours just dedicated to foreign language. And guess what I am still not learning. Also I needed 9 hours of science. And I am a communication's major!

        July 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  3. SA

    Many people I know took longer not because of failures or laziness but because they decided after the first year or so that they wanted to change their major (usually after taking a class that really changed everything for them). I graduated in 4 years with 2 majors and 2 minors, 2 summers abroad and a 3.9 GPA. Its possible if you work hard and know what you want from the start.

    June 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  4. Rosa

    I believe that the time that it takes to get a Bachelors depends on everyone's situation.
    For instance, I'm a working mother, I have two kids, and it took more than 5 years to get my bachelors because I'm a full time employee. It's very hard, but the more your prepare yourself the better oportunities your'll have in life.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  5. Nicole

    The reason for the pay gap isn't that these students took an extra two years. Almost everyone I know that took more than 4 years to graduate either did it because they had to repeat classes or had no idea what they wanted to do with their life / mental problems. On the other hand, the few people I knew who stayed longer because of study abroad or a second major got as good a job as those who finished in 4 years. My ex-boyfriend took 5 years to graduate because he got two engineering degrees (Mechanical and Aerospace) and last I heard he was working at NASA. But the students who stayed longer for educational purposes are a tiny minority compared to those who stayed longer because they couldn't get their lives in order.

    This is an example of the difference between correlation and causation.

    June 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  6. JJ

    I always wondered about those students who took a 'study abroad' semester in some exotic foreign country. I always wondered how much 'studying' was actually going on.

    June 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Clarissa

      Well don't wonder, look it up. I am sure the location and the course of study would factor into the experience. Why does that even matter to you? Somehow it doesn't meet your expectations?

      July 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Lois Voisine

      My eldest daughter graduated ON TIME in 4 yrs even though she also went abroad to Australia ; she managed to do just fine. My younger daughter will be a junior this year. She is going abroad to Costa Rica this semester to complement her DOUBLE major of Spanish and Psychology. I (and SHE) fully expect her to also graduate ON TIME. While it's true that the courses they take cannot be part of their 'core' classes, and they only transfer back as pass/fail, I think it is worth it's weight in gold for the other life experiences they have beyond the academics. College students have opportunities that they will never have again outside of college life so I urged them to consider a semester abroad – and they both opted to take me up on the offer. It's not easy, but I made it clear to them that an extra semester was not an option as I am a single parent. They heard me, appreciated my sacrifice to give them the opportunity to go to college, and paid me back by using the opportunity in the right way. It IS possible. They managed to WORK through out the college years
      AND have a social life so GROW up you babies! you can handle more than you think you can – just TRY harder.

      June 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
      • SoandSo

        Wow, STFU tool

        July 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  7. Fashion Slice

    I think this is silly. As long as your GPA is solid, I don't think it matters if it takes an extra year or two, especially if you study abroad or double major. I graduated in 2009 and wish I would have complimented my BA in English with another major.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  8. Sam

    I took five and a half years because I was an anxiety-ridden mess and didn't reach out for help soon enough.

    Don't make my mistake!

    If things are getting to the point where you think you need a year off, or are forced to as a result of poor grades, get help NOW!

    June 28, 2012 at 11:04 am |