Time no longer on our side

By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"College is awesome, don't ever graduate," a friend casually noted while tent-hopping during Homecoming. "Add a major, add a minor, go abroad, stay."

Some students stay for five or six years because they partied too much and slacked their way to the extra time. Others are in one of the several majors on campus with severe class availability problems, and they simply couldn't get the classes to graduate on time.

But then there are those who could have graduated in four, or even 3 1/2, but don't. They are the ones who add a major, whether it is to impress graduate schools, Proctor and Gamble, or a father.

Indeed, in a survey the UA administers to students annually, only 29 percent considered graduating in four years essential. Worse still, only 61 percent of students said the same thing of graduating in five years. In other words, two out of five students think it's OK to take six or more years to graduate.

As the university demands that the new UA president should focus on class availability, it's time to look at one more way the UA could free up more classes - by making students who can graduate do so.

As big state schools across the country face similar dilemmas of funding losses, it's worth noting what some of them are trying to alleviate the problem.

Some have been adopting financial disincentives for staying in school too long. For example, the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater recently enacted the so-called "Johnny Lechner" rule.

Under the rule, named after a now-famous real-life Van Wilder currently in his 12th year of college, students who have more than 165 credits see their tuition double. Arizona State University also briefly discussed a rule charging more for students who don't graduate, and the Arizona Legislature for a while proposed similar rules to respond to dismal graduation rates.

Elite schools have long had restrictions on students staying extra time, but what would the effect be for the UA? Even though the UA improved the four-year graduation rate from one in four students in 1997 to 1-in-3 in 2004, this is still an abysmal record.

The average student graduates in 4.7 years, which means the university must serve students 18 percent longer than four years; thus, the student body will be 18 percent larger than some say it should be. If more of those students would graduate on time, there would be more seats for others.

What would be the effects of charging students more for staying longer? For one, it would decrease the number of double majors on campus. With some schools across the country facing 30 percent or even 40 percent of students attempting to double major, this would affect a large number of students.

On the plus side, departments would feel reduced pressure from decreased demand.

Of course, as with any proposal to improve class availability, there are downsides and strong opposition. Saying that students need to leave earlier than they would like is like depriving them of an education. With so many students who seem to not care, such as Robin Balla from the infamous New York Times piece that criticized public universities, why force out the ones who do?

Moreover, isn't the ability to double major a big draw of large state schools, when top schools often make it difficult or impossible? Isn't it unfair to punish the best students?

Some would say the argument is not about fairness but about efficiency. If every student would graduate when he or she should, it would free up that many seats in classes for students who really need it.

However, any policy would have to be carefully administered, and the university would surely want to allow for exceptions.

Students are absolutely correct that class availability should be a top priority for the next president and for the Arizona Board of Regents. No longer are there options that can please everyone.

Charging students who take too long to graduate extra is not a good option, but nowadays everything needs to be considered. Sorry, students who can't seem to leave, but you might need to chip in, too.

Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.