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California Targets "Super Seniors" to Address Over-Enrollment

May 7, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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