Matthew Williams is a “super senior” – a student who has been in college more than eight semesters.
He enrolled at CSU in the fall of 2000 and is set to graduate in December.
“In my first two years I didn’t know what classes to take, so I ended up taking a bunch that I didn’t need to graduate,” he said.
Williams isn’t alone. In fact, students who finish college in just four years are actually in the minority.
Barely more than one third of CSU students graduate within four years, according to research by the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis.
25 percent of students graduate in nine to ten semesters, five percent of students graduate in 11 to 12 semesters, 1.4 percent of students graduate in 13 to 14 semesters and one percent of students take 15 or more semesters to graduate, statistics from 2000 show.
The rest either don’t graduate or transfer.
But there’s nothing to worry about, officials say. That’s how it’s been for a while.
“If you look at retention data, our graduation rate is pretty much stable,” said Ming Zhang, director of Institutional Analysis.
For instance, in 1990 only about 21 percent of students graduated after four years, considerably less than the 33.6 percent that did so in 2000, statistics show.
The Student Bill of Rights assures students graduation within four years, but only if they meet very specific requirements, such as the declaration of a major in the first semester, completion of all pre-requisites for degree courses, 15 degree-relevant credits per semester and no additional majors or minors.
The Bill of Rights also makes an exception for certain majors with extra requirements.
There are plenty of students who identify themselves as super seniors.
Jessica Duran, a biology education major who finished her degree in May, is still technically enrolled for her ninth semester to fulfill her student teaching requirement.
Duran came to CSU with 13 credits from high school and took an average of 18 credits per semester for a degree in biology and a minor in Spanish.
“In spring 2006, I took 21 credits total between CSU and Metro,” she said.
She had to commute to Denver twice a week for classes she couldn’t take at CSU that spring but needed for her degree.
She had to forfeit her Spanish minor to graduate on time.
Immediately declaring a major can help but isn’t necessary for four-year graduation, said Gaye DiGregorio, director for Advising Services.
“When someone starts out with open option, they think they might be at a disadvantage for graduating in four years, but they’re not,” DiGregorio said. “When open option majors choose a major, they are more likely to stick with it.”
Some students blame advising and curriculum changes for their extended stay at CSU.
While advisers are supposed to help students work toward graduation, students are also expected to be aware of requirements and institutional policies.
“It’s a dual responsibility,” DiGregorio said.
Curriculum changes are unavoidable.
“It wouldn’t be a good thing to stay the same way forever, but we don’t want to impede the student either,” DiGregorio said. “You have to have some sort of negotiation.”
She said the school expects students to graduate with the current requirements, but if this hinders graduation, the student can work with his or her department.
“I’ve felt like there’s a lot of hoops to jump through,” said Mark Petty, a double major in music and natural resource recreation and tourism.
Petty began school in 1997 at Brigham Young, then took two years off before continuing school in Maine, and finally came to CSU in fall 2003.
He expected to graduate in 2005 but added a second major, which delayed graduation.
Petty will complete his coursework in May and begin student teaching next fall.
Students like Petty can help themselves stay on track by making use of the school’s resources.
One resource students often overlook is the GUIDE, or Guide to University and Individual Degree Evaluation.
Students can pick up a copy of the GUIDE from the registrar’s office, which shows them what graduation requirements have already been filled and which are still open.
Petty insists he hasn’t been “held back by the system.”
“I’m here because it’s the choice I’ve made over and over that I want to get the education I want,” he said.
Staff writer Callie Moench can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students who intend on graduating in the spring must contact the Degree Office by Oct. 6. This can be done in person at the Degree and Transfer Evaluation Office at the Administration Annex, room 100, or by e-mail at email@example.com.