Woodard’s not alone in extending his university studies beyond a typical senior year. While undergraduate education is typically billed as a 4-year experience, many students, particularly at public universities, actually take five, six, or even more years to attain a degree. According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40% of students who enter college each year graduate within 4 years, while almost 60% of students graduate in six years. At public schools, less than a third of students graduate on time.
“It’s a huge issue for society,” says Matthew Chingos, an author of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities. “It’s a huge issue for the individual students who are spending more money on tuition than they need to. The longer they wait to graduate and get a job, those are extra years of their careers when they’re in college and not working and not making money.” Chingos points out that delayed graduation at public schools also affects taxpayers who are subsidizing students’ education.
Reasons for delaying graduation are numerous. For students who choose to participate in co-ops or internships during the school year, it can be tough to fit in all the necessary courses. Overcrowded classes can make it impossible for students to fulfill degree requirements in a timely manner. And the common practice of changing majors midway through college can make a 4-year degree impractical.