Are Four Years of College Financing Enough?

Many students take more than four years to graduate from college, a fact parents need to consider in their financial planning.

When many parents prepare for financing a child's college education, they base their plan on the expectation that their child will graduate in four years. However, often the time to graduation is longer. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) claims that only about 40 percent of students graduate from college in four years.

OT? Oh No!

Overtime (OT) in college translates to a very different financial ball game. It means a significantly higher total cost for a college education. A fifth year could boost the total cost by about 25 percent.

Exactly How Much Longer Than Four Years?

While each student is obviously unique, certain statistics can still provide useful parameters as parents evaluate their child's potential time to graduation. NCES examined 1999-2000 bachelor's degree recipients and compared them with 1992-1993 recipients. The results are as follows:

While the good news is that the time to graduation declined, the bad news is that the average student still took more than four years to complete a degree.

Alarmingly, some students took much longer. A separate study by the NCES monitored students over a six-year time frame. Overall, only 51 percent of undergraduates who began in 1995-1996 had attained a degree or certificate six years later. An additional 14 percent were still enrolled after six years.

Why More Than Four Years?

A number of reasons explain the delay:


What Can Parents Do?

Parents should honestly evaluate the likelihood that a child will graduate in four years. Is this person a good student who works hard in school and is serious about an education? How clearly defined are the students goals?

Parents should determine how many credits are needed to take each semester to graduate in four years and make sure the child takes that course load. If this isn't happening, parents must find out why and adjust their financial plan accordingly.

If a student falls behind, taking a few summer school classes could remedy the situation. The cost for summer classes is often much lower than the price for a regular term, although summer boarding at a school can be expensive. As an option, your child can live at home during the summer and take courses at a neaby two- or four-year college. However, students should check with an advisor at their school to see which courses and how many credits will transfer.

Planning ahead and monitoring your child's progess is the best way to make sure that school goes smoothly. Overtime may make a basketball game more exciting, but it's the last thing parents want to see for their child's college education.