By Katie Laird
Mary Ann Johnson started her college education at BYU as an eager 18-yr-old, full of hopes and ambitions for her future career as a nurse. Determined to do things right, Johnson obtained a pre-nursing course map and meticulously planned out the next four years of her life, with the vision of saving peoples’ lives as a motivating force behind every class she took.
But after the four years had passed, Johnson had yet to set foot in a hospital. After applying twice to the BYU nursing program and being rejected both times, Johnson was thrown off course.
“I was sort of lost for awhile,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Eventually Johnson made the decision to give up on her dream of becoming a nurse and settled for a public health major just to get out of school. After a full five years, Johnson said the only thing she wanted was to finish. After carrying a 14-hour credit load for over 10 semesters, in addition to working part-time in order to pay for tuition, Johnson didn’t have much left to give.
“I regret not going into what I wanted to,” she said. “But I’m definitely glad just to be done.”
Johnson’s case is a typical one for BYU students, and a better than average one compared the rest of the state. The Associated Press reported a statistic from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which found that about half of all Utah students who start college directly out of high school still haven’t obtained a bachelor’s degree after six years, and have a hard time finishing an associate’s by three.
This average is significantly lower than the national average, despite its own climbing numbers over the past three decades. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average number of years it took to obtain a bachelor’s degree during the 1970s was 4.32 years. That average increased to 4.46 years during the 1980s, and continued its ascent into the 1990s, at 4.58 years.
David Longanecker, a researcher at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, cited three main reasons for the increase, as published in Toolbox Revisited, a compilation of research done after following high school students for eight years. Longanecker said more students are dropping more courses while enrolled. He also said many colleges have increased the number of hours required to graduate, and more students are dropping out of school for extended periods of time and then coming back to finish.
BYU is keeping pace, however, with the average having stayed just under 10 semesters for first-time, degree-seeking students to graduate. Students at the University of Utah are taking an average of 12 semesters, and at Utah State University, less than half of first-time, full-time students graduate within six years.
For a period of time, BYU was charging students extra tuition once the students exceeded a certain number of hours, but that was stopped, and now letters are sent out to encourage students to get through as soon as possible.