By: Kathleen Hirschfeld & Ken Napier
While many students transfer before graduating, and lots of people attend for personal enrichment without the intention of completing a degree, the title “two-year college” may be an incorrect way to refer to Mercer.
According to the most recent statistics available from the New Jersey Higher Education Commission, 5.2 percent of first-time full-time students at Mercer graduate in two years. The numbers are worse for minority students than caucasians. The three year graduation rate for caucasians is 19.5 percent, while for African Americans it is only 4.1 percent.
In the 2009 article by Robert Ronstadt, “Community College: Savings Or A Trap?” on Forbes.com, the author says that “the average time to complete college is now 6.2 years…meaning that a significant number of our 18 million college students are taking more than 6.2 years to finish what should be four years of college.”
Mercer’s course catalog indicates that most degree programs require 60-65 credits. Using the Liberal Arts program as an example, the degree requires a total of 21 classes, meaning an enrolled student must take at least five to six classes a semester, possibly needing to include summer/winter courses in order to graduate within two years.
Working while attending college makes taking five to six classes per semester an even greater challenge. The article, “What You Don’t Know About College Students Today” by Cicely Wedgeworth on Online-Education.net, indicated that 60 percent of community college students work more than 20 hours a week. Many work even more than that. When employment is on the line, students often sacrifice study time for work time; the result can be failing or withdrawing from courses, further reducing the chances of graduating in two years.
Trying to fit more courses in without missing time at work has lead to an increase in the number of students taking online courses. It turns out, this “solution” may slow students down even further.
An article entitled “Community College students perform worse online than face to face” by Ryan Brown which appeared in the July 2011 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Brown reports, “Community-college students enrolled in online courses fail and drop out more often than those whose coursework is classroom-based, according to a new study released by the Community College Research Center at the Teachers College at Columbia University.”
In the same article, Brown goes on to note that “The study, which followed the enrollment history of 51,000 community-college students in Washington State between 2004 and 2009, found an eight percentage-point gap in completion rates between traditional and online courses.”
Even Mercer administrators are not optimistic about students’ chances of graduating in two years. In an interview with The VOICE Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell said, “When you look at sectors of higher education, this sector is called a ‘two-year’ sector…there is no meaning in a two year, in a community college.” She also said, “Because of work environments and part-time students there are ten year students.”
Student perceptions of their graduation odds seem to mirror reality Second year Criminal Justice major Brian Harris, says: “Sure it’s a two year college if you divide by four.” Another student, Theater major Parker Harris says, “It’s like high school take two: the next four years.”
Students and administrators alike are clear that the two year experience is the exception, not the rule.