An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

Graduate in Four Years Guaranteed. If Not, You Get Free Tuition.


A growing trend among college students is to extend their college years from the traditional four year degree, into five, six, or even seven years. This time frame is not to pursue an advanced degree; this is just for an undergraduate Bachelor degree!

This extra time enrolled in college is detrimental for many reasons. First, it costs students (or parents) a lot more money. Obviously the classes beyond four years are not free, so every additional credit hour costs more. This also  might mean more student loan debt, because many financial aid programs end after 8 semesters.

Second, this will postpone getting a job. The goal of graduating with a college degree is to get a job, and begin earning money. Obviously, the longer it takes to graduate the longer it will take students to find a job and begin earning a paycheck.

Finally, extended enrollments are bad for colleges. Colleges are rated and often funded on graduation rates, and many of these rates are determined by a cohort of students. The longer it takes for a cohort to graduate, the lower the graduation rate will be.

Recently, a few colleges have come up with a new strategy to combat these extended enrollment periods and push their students to graduate in four years.

Graduation Guarantee

At a few small private and public colleges and universities around the country there is an optional ceremony that can be completed before a student begins their freshman year of college. The student, along with their parents and the college president, will sign a document that states the student will participate in regular academic advising sessions, complete certain milestones while enrolled, and keep a certain academic standing. In return for this agreement, the college agrees to guarantee the student will graduate in four years.

If a student upholds their end of the bargain, and the student does not graduate in four years due to classes being unavailable or poor academic advising, then the college will pay for any additional semesters required to graduate!

This guarantee has a very positive effect on all involved.

Parents feel confident that their hard earned money is going to support a goal with a defined end, and not an open-ended price tag. They can feel assured that their student is getting the direction and support they need to reach their goal of graduating, and graduating on time.

The college uses this guarantee as a marketing tool to show that they are committed to helping their students succeed. It also demands excellence from adademic advisors because they know that the college could potentially be footing a tuition bill if they offer bad advice.

Students can feel confident in the advice that their advisors give them, and they can see their hard work pay off as they steadily progress towards their goal of graduating on time. It is also great motivation to know that your school is taking such a personal interest in your success.

According to the University of Nebraska’s website “The four-year guarantee for graduation relies on mutual commitment from the student to follow a list of practical guidelines while attending college, and from the university to ensure that required courses or acceptable alternatives are available.

Western Michigan University has a similar stance “Part of putting students first is a commitment to helping students save money. Yet, no matter how much we contain costs and keep tuition affordable, nothing will save money for students and their families as much as earning a degree in as few as four years. Every semester we can shave off of a student’s time in college is an automatic savings in tuition and living expenses and a chance to be earning money in the work force or getting a head start on graduate or professional school.”

There are about 15 colleges and universities across the nation who have all implemented a form of a graduation guarantee:

Bethel College
Baldwin-Wallace College
Randolph-Macon College
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Western Michigan University
California State University, Fullerton
Juniata College
University of the Pacific
Mercer University
Virginia Wesleyan College
University of Nebraska
Montana State University
Lebanon Valley College
Vanguard University
Green Mountain College

Currently about 80% of students who attend private colleges finish their degree within 4 years. At public colleges and universities that number drops to 50%. Graduating on time is a serious problem.

It is important to note however, that not all programs are designed to be completed within 8 semesters. Many programs require internships, excess lab work, and other requirements that are designed to extend the program beyond the four year mark.

The main problems arise when students are unable to enroll in the classes they need, are poorly advised, slack off and take less classes each semester than they are capable of, and change their majors multiple times.

The Graduation Guarantee is a great first step to solving that problem.

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  1. My children graduated from University of California in four years. I set the tone with them and they knew that was their obligation.

    • That is awesome. I think it really is important for parent’s to set the tone. I think it helps when children understand the value of money, then they realize that they are wasting hard earned money when they needlessly extend their college days.

  2. I graduated with a BS and MS in 5 years. That’s the way to go if you want a Master degree. Most of my friends finished in 4 years. The one that didn’t finish usually dropped out during the first year.
    I like this program though. It will help the students and parents out if they can’t enroll in a class.

    • Wow a BS and MS in 5 years is very impressive!

  3. That’s an excellent incentive. I graduated in 5 years with a BA, but I would have been more motivated to finish in 4 if this incentive had been an option.

    • I think you speak for a lot of people. Having some tangible reward for graduating in four years will go a long way towards motivating people to push themselves to do that.

  4. I took the 5 year route but I also completed a study abroad. Then I went back for 2 and a half years for a more lucrative degree. Getting started in the work force later with more student loan debt is not great, but with a little hard work I can catch up.

    • FSYA — That is a very important point. It won’t do a whole lot of good to graduate in 4 years with a degree that will not earn you any money. It sounds like your new degree field will pay off big dividends in the end!


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