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Pennsy colleges puzzled over delays in graduation

February 16, 2000

Are Pennsylvania's college students reluctant to leave the places where they've learned so much, or is college so difficult they can't make it through in four years? Gov. Tom Ridge wants to know, and the answer he gets may mean lots of cash to the state's institutions of higher learning.

Ridge's proposed budget would provide extra funds to the state's public and private schools if they graduate at least 40 percent of their students in four years. That may sound simple, but for the 14 schools in the state's System of Higher Education, the average is only 24 percent.

Some state schools do better, according to a survey done by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The University of Pittsburgh's percentage of students graduating in four years is 33 percent, while Penn State's is 30 percent and Temple's is only 16 percent.

Some readers may be surprised by those numbers, and by the fact is that many college administrators were also unaware that some of the percentages were so low. Mary Burger, the state system's chancellor of student affairs, was clueless in an interview with The Associated Press, saying only that finding out what happened is a question worthy of study.

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Possible answers include inadequate preparation prior to college, forcing students to take remedial courses that don't count toward their degrees. And many students who work full-time while they're going to school may not be able to squeeze in enough classwork to graduate in four years.

Another theory advanced by some college administrators: The four-year standard may be outmoded, with the amount of knowledge students need to be educated growing so fast that mastering it all requires more than four years.

That's possible, but the fact is that the more time students take to graduate, the more debts they accumulate and the longer their entry into the work force is delayed. And the taxpayers who subsidize all of this deserve to know that their dollars are well-used to provide a good education in a reasonable amount of time. And four years to us seems reasonable.

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