Students' reasons vary
for taking longer to graduate
May 11, 1998
Jennifer Correale gets up every morning at 6 a.m. and goes to work. When she was in college she got up at 5:30 a.m. In many ways, life in the real world for Correale has been easier than it was when she attended UConn. And people think that college students have it easy.
Like the majority of today's undergraduate college students Correale, who holds a bachelor's degree in nursing, took five years to get her degree. In order to pay for her years at UConn, she worked more than 20 hours a week waiting tables and another 10-15 per week working in a University office, as well as being a resident assistant (RA) in charge of keeping order among more than 50 students in a residence hall. Her job as a RA allowed her to attend the university without paying for room and board. Her other jobs took care of her tuition. On top of it all, Correale took a full load of courses, 15 credits, which is equal to five classes.
For most students, taking 15 credits per semester would allow them to graduate in four years. Correale, however, had to take extra classes to train for her jobs as orientation leader and resident assistant.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 22 percent of today's college students will graduate in four years. Pam Roelfs, director of the Office of Institutional Research. says the four-year graduation rate at UConn is 40 percent.
Students today are more responsible for paying for their own education than ever before.
Stephen Richardson, a 25 year-old fifth semester journalism major, from Abington, Mass., is taking six years to complete his undergraduate degree. His reason for staying in school so long is simple. Money.
In order to pay his $19,222-a-year expenses as an out-of-state student, Richardson works throughout the semester as a supervisor in the Ryan Refectory Dining Hall and takes a course load of 12 credits per semester, the minimum for a full-time student. His summer and winter breaks consist of full-time jobs to make his workload in the fall and spring semester more manageable.
"It's hard to take classes and keep up with my bills at the same time," he says.
Last fall Richardson had to take a semester off from school to work more than 50 hours per week and save money to pay his tuition for the following year.
He says he simply takes it one semester at a time and hopes it will all pay off in the end.
Richardson's parents support his decision to take longer to graduate. "As long as I follow through with my education, my parents will stand behind my decisions," he says.
Richardson believes that students are now taking more time to graduate for many different reasons. He says some are financial, while others go to college unsure of what they want to do in the future.
"There are so many different choices now, choices that weren't here years ago, and many students just need to experience different subject areas before they decide what they want to major in," he says.
UConn offers more than 90 different academic majors, many of which are in subject areas to which new students may not have been previously exposed.
Christopher Juliano, a sixth semester nursing major, says when he started college he had no idea nursing would become his ultimate career goal. He knew the major existed, but says he really didn't know what the courses were like.
"I never thought about nursing before I came to college. I thought I would major in biology," he says.
Juliano says he likes to be involved in extra-curricular activities. He has been vice-president of the UConn rugby team and an officer of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. His activities take up a lot of time in his schedule, which also includes a job at the Environmental Research Institute, where he works more than 20 hours per week.
Juliano says he if he took more classes, he would not be able to hold down his job or participate in student activities.
"I think that what you learn through activities is just as important as what you learn in the classroom," he says. "I want to take advantage of the time I have here and really get my money's worth."
Contemporary college students have more extra-curricular activities to experience than ever before. There are more than 250 registered clubs and organizations at the Storrs campus alone.
According to the Center for Career Services, student involvement in campus activities helps to diversify a resume and complete the image of a well-rounded applicant.
Jennifer Correale's involvement in organizations such Pi Beta Phi sorority led her to receive the Donald McCullough Student Leader Award, which recognizes the top two undergraduate leaders each year.
When she applied for nursing positions after graduation, the honor on her resume impressed prospective employers. "I talked about the McCullough award in many of my interviews," she says. "It showed that I have experience in leadership skills and decision-making."
Keith Lawrynowicz, an eighth semester chemistry major, from Wilmington, N.C., says he gets much better grades if he takes fewer classes. In addition to his studies, Lawrynowicz also spends his weekends and semester breaks working long hours at New England Pizza in Vernon to help finance his education.
"If I didn't have to work, I could handle a more rigorous course load," he says. "It may cost me more, but if it means I'll get better grades, I think it's worth it."
Today's college students may be taking longer to graduate, but it's not for lack of effort. In many cases, the reason it is taking longer to complete a college degree lies in the greater responsibilities, higher aspirations, and overall competitiveness of today's college students.
Mark Sadowski is a graduating senior, majoring in journalism. He wrote this article for a feature writing class last fall.