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Friday, October 28, 2011

BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW

gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu

Bradshaw College Consulting

(219) 663-3041

Dear Mr. Bradshaw: How much will my college education cost? My parents have tried to plan for my education, but the financial part is hard to quantify. We hope you can tell us what expenses we should expect. --Student

Graduate in 4 years and save



Dear Student:


One of the best ways to cut the cost of college is to graduate in four years. If that sounds obvious, it doesnít seem to register with many students who take five to six years to graduate.

Nationally, only 58 percent of full-time students graduate in six years, and three out of four part-time students fail to earn a bachelorís degree within eight years.

Many colleges are not motivated to advertise their graduation rates, but they are easy to find by visiting College Results Online (www.collegeresults.org). CRO is an interactive, user-friendly tool used to provide parents and students with information about college graduation rates for most four-year colleges or universities in the country.

One useful feature is the ability to compare graduation rates for colleges serving similar students. This information reveals that some colleges do a much better job of graduating students than others.

For example, Indiana University in Bloomington has a four-year graduation rate of 52.5 percent, and Purdue University in West Lafayette has a 37.5 percent four-year graduation rate. Compare that to the University of Chicago (85.7) and Notre Dame (90.1). These results show the best graduation rates are at private schools, and these numbers are representative of universities nationwide.

Clearly, a few colleges benefit by making a lot of money on the perpetual-student syndrome. But colleges alone are not entirely responsible for prolonging a studentís education.

Parents must take some responsibility because they allow their children to start college without a firm goal in mind. Many will say a student needs time to grow and experiment by taking classes in different areas before declaring a major.

However, if we compare graduation rates among most top public and private universities, we find that nearly 90 percent of students at private schools entered their freshmen year with a declared major. Fewer than 20 percent changed their majors before graduation.

Because most of the classes taken by these students apply to their degrees, it shortens graduation time.

Most of my clients have a very clear goal in mind when they apply. Even if they change their minds midway through their course work, it is generally from something like chemistry to biology to pre-med, where many classes fulfill both degree requirements.

Similar results apply if the student changes majors from applied math to economics or from history to political science. Radical changes to different majors add two to three years to what should be a four-year degree program.

With college costs soaring each year faster than the rate of inflation, graduating in four years is the surest way to save money on your education.

Simply put, plan ahead.

I suggest parents start talking about career goals when their children reach eighth grade. That way, they can start planning their high school curriculum with that goal in mind.


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