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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

Rushing to a degree

MONEY is a great motivator. People are driven to earn more of it and to pay less of it for goods or services whenever the opportunity presents itself. College students, it appears, have gotten wise to the latter proposition by graduating sooner rather than later. It's one of the positives, probably the only one, of steadily rising college tuition rates.

The days of prolonging the pursuit of a college degree may be disappearing. It has simply become too expensive for many students to stretch the college experience out to five or six years. Now the trends at both public and private institutions of higher education show increasing numbers of students obtaining their degrees in four years or less.

To many parents of today's college students, earning a four-year degree in four years was once taken for granted. But the fact is the number of five- and six-year college seniors has been climbing for a variety of reasons, from students taking less than a full-time load of credits, to dropping out a semester, to changing majors or schools.

But as college tuition began to likewise climb, so did the cost of protracted educations. Suddenly the number of students fulfilling their degree obligations in a timely manner has jumped.

At the University of Toledo it has risen to 21.4 percent from 15.7 for full-time, first-time degree candidates over a four-year period. In only the past two years, Bowling Green State University has seen a rise of those earning a baccalaureate degree in four years from 30 percent to 34.5 percent.

The number of freshman who started at Ohio State University in 2000 and graduated in four years was 39 percent compared with 23 percent who started in 1995. The figures are higher in private colleges. The impression that more students are trying to reach the finish line faster to hold down soaring tuition costs appears indisputable.

Besides a growing impatience to gain a foothold in the global market, students are motivated to save money by maxing out on credit hours and graduating without a mountain of debt. And who can blame them? Adopting a faster pace with college curriculum to protect the pocketbook is smart. "I'm sure it's evident to students that if I can take 15, 16, or 17 credit hours, I can avoid next year's price increases," said Rob Sheehan, senior vice provost of academic affairs at UT.

It's a tough economic lesson to absorb while hitting the books with a deadline to achieve, but it's good preparation for the real world.



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