gee whiz, five years is kinda sorta long

Judith Scott-Clayton: The Rise of the Five-Year Four-Year Degree - NYTimes.com  The five-year degree is a direct result of colleges that are not accountable to the people they serve.  The Ivy League gets them out in four. The three-year degree, like Oxford has, is where some are moving.

But the author's slant in this article is strange: she is a hawk when it comes to Pell grant kids who may be taking additional time to get a degree when they could buckle down and work harder (in her opinion).  In fact, she and her associates have proposed legislation to ensure that low-income people do not abuse their so-called privileges.
While the policy does not prevent students from taking more credits, it doesn’t provide any incentive to do so, either. Pell Grants, for example, provide the same funding whether a student enrolls for 12 or 15 credits per term, so a student who takes five years to complete can get 25 percent more in cumulative aid than a student who finishes in four. (I and several other economists have suggested changing the federal definition of full-time enrollment to 15 credits a semester.)
Contrast that with her view of the colleges' role in this: she is casual and hardly seems to care about potential institutional abuse, considering it a "norm," and ultimately urging parents to help their middle-class kids get through in four. No hard data on the extreme growth of college tuition (significantly higher than health care costs)  or the fact that for decades colleges have often made it difficult to get all the credits in four years and they make money when students take longer. No proposed legislation here; that hardball stuff is just for the low-income people:
Similarly, it’s not clear that colleges have much incentive to get students out any faster. Although most institutional expenditures are related to providing instruction, many institutions charge a flat tuition rate for students taking 12 or more credits, and the revenues that these institutions receive from state and local governments are sometimes pegged to their number of “full-time” enrollees. A college that gets the same revenue, but incurs greater costs when a student takes 15 credits instead of 12, may not particularly mind if students want to follow a five-year plan.  
At least anecdotally, taking five years for a four-year degree has become an accepted norm on many campuses among both students and administrators.
One of my graduate students described her freshman orientation at a large state university, at which the university president explicitly told students not to rush through their experience, that “the standard time to completion was five years,” the student recalled, adding: “He encouraged us to explore electives. At that time, my father turned to me and said, ‘You will finish in four. There is no reason to drag this out.’”
The student graduated on time. So while some factors push in the opposite direction, perhaps there’s no incentive as powerful as that simple parental
directive.
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