A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that in recent decades it is taking longer for students to earn their bachelor’s degrees. This trend is not across the board for all colleges, but rather is more common among students who enroll at less competitive four-year public institutions and at community colleges.

Data from the study shows that of the students who graduated from high school in 1972, 58% earned a bachelor’s degree within four years of finishing high school, which many consider to be on time. For students who graduated in 1992, only 44% earned their bachelor’s degree within four years of finishing high school.why is it taking students longer to earn bachelor's degrees

There is a difference among the rate at which students complete their bachelor’s degree at public schools:

  • At top ranked public colleges and universities, 55.5% of students finished their bachelor’s degree in four years
  • At other state and local schools, only 34.7% of students finished their bachelor’s degree in four years.

People who want students to graduate more promptly need to focus on the schools’ budgets. Dwindling resources at less-selective public universities may be the cause for why degree attainment rates are lower than before.

There are links between school resources and the time it takes to earn bachelor’s degrees. In public institutions during the time of the study period, student-faculty ratios increased in overall public institutions from 25.5 to 29.8 students to 1 teacher. At the top ranked 50 institutions (and at private colleges), the ratios decreased meaning that teachers could pay more attention to each individual student, making the overall learning experience better.

Another factor increasing the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree is, with higher enrollment rates at schools the amount of resources per student decreases. The study found that for every 1% increase in a state’s population of 18 year olds, the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree increases by 0.71 years. And for those students studying NOT at the top ranked 50 institutions the increase in time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree is greater: 1.11 years.

One author of the study concluded, “That these increases are concentrated among students attending public colleges and universities outside the most selective, few suggests a need for more attention to how these institutions adjust to budget constraints and student demand, and how students at these colleges finance higher education.”

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