Is Six The New Four?

While national debates rage on about the cost of tuition for students in the United States, many college students are taking six years to graduate from a university. This increase may be due in part to a shift in societal pressures and students deciding to pursue different passions rather than fully investing into four years of schooling. 


In 2016, 2.2 million high school graduates enrolled in a university for the semester after their graduation. That is 69.7 percent of graduates deciding to attend college after they finish their diploma, but these students are beginning to take longer than four years to graduate from their respective universities.


The average first year student at a university is 18 years old. Coming straight out of high school and heading off to college can be an extremely stressful and anxiety inducing event. Packing up and moving out of your home for the first time can cause students a lot of pain in their first year. Coupled with an increase in pressure to perform well can cause these first-year students to far exceedingly far behind.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the most common health problem for college students. One in five college students have been diagnosed with depression according to a study done by the American College Health Association. This rate of depression matches the rate of students dealing with anxiety while at school. 


The University of Colorado Boulder has a very high freshman year retention rate of 86%. This is 21% higher than the state average and 15% higher than the national average. Out of the 6,221 freshmen enrolled in fall of 2015, 5,350 of these students stayed on for a second year.


Riley Dickerson, a freshman student at CU Boulder talked about her time on campus; “My freshman year has been hard, but really good too,” Dickerson said. “It’s just the transition into being more self-reliant and leaving home. It’s definitely a big change from what I was used to back in Ridgway.” Dickerson grew up in a small town of 900 people called Ridgway in western Colorado.


CU Boulder offers aid to students through a program they call Counseling And Psychiatric Services or CAPS. CAPS offers six free counseling sessions per semester to students. This opportunity to seek help for struggling freshman may be a reason for CU Boulder’s high freshman retention rate. 


As high school students begin to transition from adolescence into adulthood they are faced with many new challenges. Alongside mental health struggles such as depression or anxiety college students also face an increase in classwork difficulty. 


An increase in standards from high school and increasing pressure from parents often causes students to do worse or even fail. Students are expected to decide on a major that they want to pursue for the rest of their lives. When these students are forced to choose their lifelong career path directly out of high school they sometimes make mistakes which set them back. These students often change their minds as they do not know where their desires truly lie yet. This can lead to them changing plans and majors multiple times during their college careers. Doing so could set them back two, three or even four semesters. 


At CU Boulder only 43% of students graduate from the school with a degree in their first declared major. That leaves 57% of students changing their major at some point in their college careers. Nigel Amstock, a student in his fifth year at CU, talked about what kept him at CU longer than expected.


“Changing majors set me back, but minus a medical episode it hasn’t been that hard.” For young students, deciding their career path and following through with it is difficult during this time of intense change in their lives. 


While choosing a major can be a daunting task, that decision can come alongside the choice of which school you will move to and invest your time into.


For some, CU may not have been their first choice, but is where they ultimately end up completing their degree. Between schools, not all credits transfer which can lead to students losing semesters worth of work when transferring to a different school. 


Alli Butler, a student who has been at CU for three semesters said, “I have been to two other schools before this and transferred for different reasons but this is the first school that I do feel comfortable at… I have to go an extra year at this point because not all of my credits from other universities transferred here.” Because of Butler’s credits not aligning with CU Boulder’s requirements she must spend an extra year in college.


The total student loan debt in the United States totals about $1.48 trillion. This is spread out among 44 million people. The graduating class of 2016 has an average student loan debt of $37,172. This amount of debt is huge when graduates from CU make on average only $40,000 to $50,000 per year. 


If a student must spend two or three more semesters to graduate, then their debt will be even higher than that of someone who only attended college for four years. 


While most high school graduates decide to attend college, many of them opt to take a gap year before or during their time on a college campus. These students taking gap years are taking this time to learn more about themselves before pursuing a college degree. This added time is allowing students to make more informed decisions about who they want to be when they go away to college. 


In a survey done by the Gap Year Association, 92% of participates listed their reason for taking a gap year as wanting to gain personal experiences and personal growth. After taking a gap year, survey participates could graduate from a full-time institute in four years. 


It has been said time and time again that college is the best years of your life, and why shouldn’t it be. Many colleges around the country are built in beautiful locations with amenities like a five-star hotel. If there is a transition in thinking from society to accepting a six-year graduation time frame then students will likely decide to take more time and relax on these beautiful campuses. 


Although there is a lot of pressure for students to perform well and from constantly looming student loans, Amstock stays positive saying that, “The worst part of being a super senior is sitting in a lecture hall and trying to relate with that seventeen/eighteen-year-old freshman that is telling you about life in the dorms and the struggle of getting booze. It seems like an eternity ago.”