Universities Pique Interest with a Four-Year Degree Guarantee

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As a marketing mechanism for tuition-weary families, some colleges are beginning to offer a guarantee: students graduate in four years, or the college foots the bill until they do.

The New York Timesreported some 15 colleges and universities have made the pledge, to lure in new students and comfort parents with their minds on their pocketbooks.

For many universities, the guarantee goes something like this:  The student must be in good academic standing, take a full-course load every semester and meet regularly with advisers. If the college cannot offer that student a degree –because required classes weren’t available or the advisor gave bad advice – the university will pay for said student’s tuition until the degree is complete.

According to The New York Times, four-year degree guarantees, “work as a marketing tool, giving colleges a way to ease parents’ fears that their children might enjoy college enough to stick around for five or six costly years. And they help to focus attention on the task at hand: graduating in four years.”

Randolph-Macon College President Robert R. Lindgren told The New York Times he expects the guarantee to bring in over one hundred students alone, or about $3 million per year in tuition.

The pledge guarantees universities a lot of cash in relation to how much they will likely have to shell out for in-good-standing-students who don’t graduate in four years.

As The New York Times reported, students who switch majors, take time off, fail a class, or don’t take a full course load every semester are not eligible to redeem a free fifth year.

Or, as Juniata College, a 4-year degree guarantee college, puts it, “Of course, not all students are in a position to graduate in four years.  Some may need or prefer to work more than the 17 hours per week that are permitted and attend school part-time.  Others may just choose a different pace or the opportunity to take a wider range of courses that are not directly related to their field of study. This program is designed for those who want to complete their degree program as quickly as possible.”

Swarthmore, ranked number one in financial aid by The Princeton Review, works somewhat the other way. While it offers loan-free financial aid – which none of the some 15 schools listed by The New York Times do – this aid is only available to students who will earn their degrees in four years.

According to Swarthmore’s financial aid policies, “Assistance is available only during a normal-length undergraduate program (eight semesters) and only if a student enrolls full-time each semester, earns four credits each semester, and makes satisfactory academic progress.”

So while Swattie families don’t have the 4-year-degree-or-it’s-free-guarantee peace of mind, they can rest assured that there’s still motivation to graduate in 4 years.

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