College is often said to be “the best four years of your life,” but it turns out many University of Wisconsin students are spending less than four years in college. UW just revealed the average time students from the Class of 2019 took to graduate was under four years.
Students graduated from UW in 2019 in an average of 3.96 years, according to a university press release, which is a record-setting low since the university began collecting this type of data in 1980. This is especially surprising considering less than 40% of undergraduate students at a four-year university graduate on time.
There are definitely positive aspects to graduating on time. Perhaps the most obvious one is it helps students save money, as the average accumulated debt of UW students in 2019 was $27,979.
This is especially salient for non-residents, as their tuition is more than three times the cost of Wisconsin residents’ tuition. While the cost of tuition for Wisconsin residents is $10,725.32, this year, the cost for non-residents is $37,785.08.
Graduating in less than four years can hopefully help UW students to lower this debt and get a full-time job as soon as possible. But while getting out in less than four years has its financial advantages, it could put students at a disadvantage to enter the professional world so young. Graduating a year early means losing a year of further development academically, socially and mentally in college.
According to The Washington Post, the focus on graduation rates is fairly recent, and, as a result, many universities have started to track this kind of data and instill more professional advisors to help students find careers after graduation. UW is a great example of this, as programs like SuccessWorks focus on helping students find their passions and develop career-centered skills.
But if students are not able to afford to attend college for a full four years, then they cannot fully benefit from the multitude of opportunities college has to offer.
Another example of this is studying abroad. In 2018, UW was ranked second for semester-long study abroad participation among all U.S. universities — the number of students studying abroad was 2,276 for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Unfortunately, if students decide to graduate in less than four years, it leaves less room for studying abroad, as semester-long programs are often difficult to adapt to students’ graduation requirements.
Truthfully, if students cannot afford to stay in college for a full four years, then it seems that something is wrong. Four-year universities essentially function with the idea that most students stay for four years, which means certain classes, activities and resources are restricted to upperclassmen or those with senior status.
Graduating in less than four years creates a pressure for students to “pack it all in” and can lead to students missing out on fun senior year activities, such as experiencing football games for the last time with their friends, holding leadership positions in student organizations and more.
Graduating in less than four years puts students at a disadvantage because it limits the opportunities that they have for experiencing college outside of academics.
There is no “one size fits all” approach for college and everyone must do what’s good for them. But normalizing graduating early creates more pressure for students to do so, rather than allowing them to fully enjoy and utilize every moment of their college experience.
Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a junior studying political science and journalism.