On-time graduation rates at public Indiana colleges and universities are staggeringly low. Only one in 10 students at two-year colleges finish a degree on time, and only three in 10 students finish a four-year degree on time, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2014 College Completion Reports.
The reports provide a robust, comprehensive picture of student success at each public college and university in Indiana. They include data on transfer and part-time students and disaggregated data by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to focus attention on persistent achievement gaps.
Statewide, there’s a 24-point completion gap at two-year colleges between the highest-performing racial/ethnic group and the lowest-performing group. At four-year colleges, the gap is 31 points. Additionally, less than 4% of Pell grant recipients graduate on time from two-year colleges. About 17% of students receiving this need-based grant graduate on time from four-year colleges.
Why do these low graduation rates matter? First, graduating on time yields greater returns for students by lowering their cost per degree. The estimated cost of an additional year of schooling to a student is $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost potential income. What’s more: Indiana college graduates borrow over $27,000 for a four-year degree. As loan default rates rise, so does the importance of cutting college costs. The surest way to lower a student’s cost per degree is to finish sooner.
Second, institutions and the state bear significant costs for extra semesters as well, in lost productivity and additional financial aid awards. According to the College Completion Reports, four-year schools spend about $62,000 for each degree produced. About 30% of students don’t complete a four-year degree within eight years, adding to productivity losses for institutions.
Of course, for many students who are working or raising families, attending part-time may be the best option. Unfortunately, as students take additional semesters and hit state and federal financial aid limits, their probability of completing the degree declines. In fact, full-time students are six times more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than part-time students. And students who invest in their education but do not receive a diploma bear the greatest lost, reaping nearly zero return on their investment, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Return on Investment Reports.
Fortunately, the state has made great strides on both policy and institutional levels to improve completion rates. For instance, thanks to recent reforms, state financial aid now funds completed credits rather than attempted credits to incentivize completion.
Additionally, credit creep legislation cut the number of credits per degree to 120 for four-year degrees and 60 for two-year degrees. This means students who take 15 credit hours per semester set themselves up to finish on time.
As we work to combat student loan default rates and the rising costs of college, we must continue to ask how we can use dollars more efficiently. Tackling graduation rates, and ensuring those who invest in their education complete it in the shortest time possible, is imperative to minimizing those costs.
To read institution-specific data in the 2014 College Completion Reports, visit the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s web site.
Hannah Rozow is a senior at Indiana University – Bloomington and a student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.