When people talk about graduation and retention rates, they're also inevitably concerned with timely graduation, and rightly so. We don't do our students any favors by allowing them to languish in limbo, hanging around our halls for five, six, or more years. The logical extension, then, has been to encourage early graduation. At my institution, there are several majors that are redesigning their programs to facilitate three-year degrees (which invariably include online coursework, something I've taken up here and will likely revisit in the future) and even some that allow students to finish both a bachelors and a masters in four years. All of this, I think, raises an important question: do the economic benefits of graduating college early outweigh the social benefits of a traditional four-year college experience? Here are the things we'd need to quantify (assuming eventual completion of the degree) to be able to make the calculation:
- What is the average overall cost, including lost wages, of a year of undergraduate education?
- What are the long-term social benefits of an average year of undergraduate education?
- What is the economic value of the average social tie made in college?
- e.g. What is the value of generating a social network capable of creating career opportunities?
- What is the economic value of an additional year of emotional, psychological, and social maturity?
- What is the economic value of an additional year of memories (both fond and ill) from a unique and unrepeatable period in one's lifecourse?