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Is the four year track for a college degree still realistic? Graduation data from CSUs says maybe not

Recently graduated students throw their caps in the air.
Recently graduated students throw their caps in the air.
Photo by Mitchell Joyce via Flickr Creative Commons

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The traditional four year track for earning a bachelor’s degree may be starting to become a thing of the past, at least when looking at recent graduation data from the California State University System.

The current four-year graduation rate at the CSUs, the largest public university system in the country, is below 20 percent at 11 of the 23 campuses in the state, with Cal Poly’s being the highest at 52.5 percent. Cal State Los Angeles, for comparison, brings up the rear with just 9.5 percent of its students earning their degrees in four years.

Why is this happening? According to reporting done by The San Diego Union Tribune’s Gary Robbins, changes in the kinds of students who are enrolling at the Cal States are playing a big role. Many of the undergraduates who enroll today are first-generation college students, or come from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds, and have jobs and families and want to see more weekend and night courses.

Other, younger students want to see more courses held online. These time and financial constraints, along with longstanding issues like rising tuition costs and high-demand for certain classes, all contribute to the declining four year graduation rates. Six year graduation rates are much higher at the Cal States, but paying and budgeting the time for an extra two years of college isn’t an option for everyone.

Is it time to rethink the traditional four year track for college graduation? If so, how might colleges and universities ease the financial and time burdens that come along with two extra years of college?


James Minor, assistant vice chancellor and senior strategist, California State University system  

Gary Robbins, reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune covering science and education who’s been looking at CalState graduation rates