Students struggle to complete degrees in four years

Architecture professor Charles Harker takes a look at senior architecture major Danielle Jones’s project during her studio time Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.

Emily Mills

Sara Harrington, a special education major, started at Kent State in the fall of 2010. She planned on graduating in spring 2014, the standard four-year time frame for a college student.

“It was close to home, and my brother came here,” she said.

Now, four years later, she is starting her fifth year as a Kent State undergraduate student.

According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40 percent of college students graduate in four years, while almost 60 percent graduate in six years. At public universities, such as Kent State, fewer than one-third of students graduate on time.

At Kent State, only 30 percent of students who enrolled in fall 2010 graduated in four years, according to Kent State’s Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness (RPIE). Almost 30 percent were still enrolled in fall 2014.

Harrington, who also has a middle childhood education minor, is one of many education majors who has been unable to graduate on time due to stringent licensure requirements for new teachers.

Harrington has not passed the Praxis test, which means she cannot yet begin her student teaching requirement. The Praxis, similar to the ACT, is a state exam covering mathematics, reading and writing that all education majors must take in order to graduate.

“In Kent State’s eyes, I have not passed the reading,” she said.

Harrington hopes to pass the Praxis and graduate in May 2016.  

Over the last 10 years, Kent State has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of students who graduate on time, but even so, the university is working on ways to help students graduate in four years.

Greg Jarvie, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Kent State, said there are a variety of reasons students aren’t able to graduate in four years.

The credit hour cap is one factor, he said.

“It’s one of those unfortunate evils that we have to do because with where we are as an institution, and as state subsidy continues to go down, tuition goes up,” he said. “There’s no other way around it. If you want to maintain the educational opportunity for students, that’s the model that we’re using.”

With the cap, students can take a maximum 16 credit hours per semester. Each additional hour costs the student $440. Multiply that by eight semesters over four years, and it totals 128 credit hours.

Jarvie said most programs require around 120 credit hours, which means students shouldn’t have to go over the credit hour cap during a semester.

But for programs that require more than the 128 credit hours, it becomes impossible to graduate in four years without going over the cap or taking summer classes.

Kent State is working to motivate students to graduate in four years with its “Formula to Finish” program, which encourages students to take at least 15 credit hours per semester.

“It’s possible to graduate in four years, there’s no doubt,” Jarvie said. “We know it’s possible to graduate in four years, if you stay, again, focused and stay within that plan.”


The architecture students must complete 131 credit hours, and the major requires five years worth of undergraduate coursework.

The college has three different majors: architecture, interior design and architectural studies, said Stephanie Rager, an advisor in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

Students accepted to the architecture and interior design programs are known as AED general majors during their first year of coursework, which is made up of mostly Kent core classes, Rager said.

She said the degree can be completed in four years, and students are encouraged to take summer studio courses between their freshman and sophomore years. Summer studio courses pack the first year of architecture classes into one summer-long session.

The summer studio courses, while strongly recommended, are not mandatory, Rager said. They are also competitive, requiring students to have a 3.0 GPA. These two factors sometimes lead students to take the courses normally completed in the summer during fall and spring semester of their sophomore year, tacking on a fifth year of study.

In addition, architecture students are required to complete one year of graduate school before they can become professional architects, bringing the total for some students to six years.

“A lot of our students will complete the four-year architecture degree, the pre-professional degree, and then go on to the graduate program here at Kent,” Rager said. “It’s another additional year. So really to become a practicing architect, they do have to go through five years of schooling, one of those being the graduate program.”


Education is another program that students struggle to complete in four years due to high credit hour requirements and the Praxis test.   

There are two five-year education majors: integrated science and health and physical education, said Kathy Zarges, director of undergraduate advising and licensure for the College of Education, Health and Human Services.

“Students in those programs are unlikely to graduate in fewer than five years unless they are taking extensive summer classes or bring in college credit as incoming freshmen,” she said.

The integrated science major allows graduates to teach science to grades seven through 12, so Zarges said there is a lot of material students must learn in order to receive their degree.

The health and physical education major is a dual licensure program, certifying graduates to teach both health education and physical education for grades kindergarten through 12.

The middle childhood education major contains six different concentrations, depending on what combination of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies students want to focus on. These credit hour requirements range from 128 to 142.

Education majors, like Harrington, are also required to take and pass the three parts of the Praxis — mathematics, reading and writing — to begin student teaching.

“Students who do not pass one or more of the Praxis core tests are required to either retake the test until they do pass or are given the option of taking an alternative version of the test,” Zarges said.

Jarvie said the credit hour qualifications for education majors are so high due to state licensure requirements.

Saving money

However, Jarvie said, in the long run students in any major will save more money by taking a few extra credit hours per semester rather than tacking on a semester or year.

“It will be cheaper, even with that cap, to pay those semester hours, you know, again staying in that 15-16 range, versus coming back for another whole semester or year,” he said.

If students are unsure what they want to major in and enter college as exploratory majors, that can also add on to the amount of time they spend at Kent State, Zarges said.

“As with many programs at the university, depending on the major, students who do not start in their intended major as an incoming freshman may be at risk for not being able to graduate in four years,” she said.

Adding on an additional major or a minor can also affect the amount of time a student spends in school.

This school year, 541 students, or 2.5 percent, are pursuing double majors, while 3,733, or about 17 percent, are pursuing minors, according to RPIE.

Another factor is time management. Students often become too busy with other commitments to keep their focus on their education, Jarvie said.

“Students often don’t take at least 15 hours,” he said. “People get busy, they’re working…the priorities sometimes shift. They’ll drop a class here or there, and next thing you know, you’ve got an extra semester or a year, and obviously that becomes an issue for cost.”

Many university scholarships are only renewable for four years, so if students are forced to stay another semester, another year or longer, they face high tuition costs that their scholarships no longer cover.

Jarvie said he recommends students look for private scholarships through their church and community outreach groups.

He said Kent State will match private scholarships up to $1,000.

“There are some other opportunities out there that need to be taken advantage of,” Jarvie said.

He said students have to focus on their education because it’s most likely the most expensive and valuable investment they’re going to make.

“The value of an education is still the best value you’re going to get probably for anything in your life because we all know this: you get a degree, you can obviously better yourself income-wise, status, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “If you don’t have the college degree, you are very limited in what your abilities are going to be.”

Contact Emily Mills at [email protected].