CA Looks to Incentivize Colleges to Increase ‘On-Time’ Graduation Rates

Gov. Brown's Incentive to Graduate in Four Years Portrait of Governor Jerry Brown (1984)[/caption]

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that California Governor Jerry Brown wants to incentivize colleges to increase four-year graduation rates. This would be done by tying a certain amount of state funding to colleges to the percentage of students graduating “on-time.”

The idea makes sense in a number of ways. The university systems would be encouraged to guide students to finishing their bachelor’s degrees, which may lead to better counseling and matriculation. The less time a student spends in college, the less tuition a student would have to pay overall, which can lead to less student debt.

However, there are reasons why the idea does not make sense. Some majors of study are much more rigorous which could take more time to complete. Demanding degrees in the realm of engineering or hard sciences not only have more course requirements, but specific class series’ that may not be met at first attempt. Some classes are only offered during certain terms, leaving some students with no choice, but spend more than four years at a university.

Most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics charts the four-year and six-year graduation rates for all University of California campuses:

incentive to graduate in four years
Graph by collegeapps.about.com, data from National Center for Education Statistics

The LA Times also explained the cost-benefit situation the university systems face with this proposal:

“By meeting Brown’s goals over the next four years, the University of California and California State University systems could see their funding approach levels not reached since before the recession. But the institutions have prided themselves on their relative independence from state government, and Brown’s proposal has been greeted coldly by university officials unaccustomed to taking orders from politicians.”

There has also been a proposal for a four-year tuition freeze on the UC and CSU systems. If implemented, students wouldn’t have to worry about tuition hikes during that time, but the university systems won’t have that flexibility if economic hardships arise. The governor will have a revised 2013-2014 budget released next month and will include these additions.

Gov. Brown has been heavily involved in California’s higher education system. His recent advocacy has ranged from expanding online courses to campaigning for a tax initiative last election cycle.

Should the state government be in the business of creating an incentive to graduate in four years through extra funding? On one hand, it’s positive reinforcement to have universities encourage timely completion of education. However, is it realistic to expect this when many realms of study are much more rigorous and time consuming?