Guaranteed Tuition and 4 Year Graduation: Part 2

picture of scales for value of college graduation guaranteeGuaranteed tuition programs are one way to save money although they probably have a greater effect at public colleges than private ones. The other guarantee program popping up with increasing frequency is a four-year college graduation guarantee. This means that if it takes you more than four years to graduate, the college will pay for the remaining classes needed to graduate. Given that the average four-year graduation rate is less than 50%, this is an appealing offer.

But how good of an offer is it?

There are two common criticisms of the graduation guarantee. The first is that it’s only being offered by schools that already have a high graduation rate. A closer look at the graduation rates of these schools shows that this criticism has little foundation in reality. The average graduation rate of the 88 colleges I’ve identified with guaranteed four-year graduation is 37%. This is little different from the 39% four-year graduation rate reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The second knock against such programs is as one parent tells the New York Times, “There seemed to be a lot of reasons for it not to be their fault and to pay for that fifth year.”

These programs do include a list of requirements that should a student fail to meet them, would release the college from its obligation to pay for the remaining classes. But here’s the interesting part, these requirements tend to be things that students should be doing anyway. They include meeting with an advisor, registering early, using degree completion check tools, taking full course loads, and so on.

And here is where I see the value of college graduation guarantees. In the past, especially at public universities, a student could do all the “right” things and still be short a class through no fault of her own. Depending on the bureaucracy, the response was often “tough luck, see you next semester.”

But now if advisors see students are going to have problems meeting the requirements, they have an incentive to provide students with an alternative means to satisfy the requirements. The University of the Pacific states that it will substitute “a different course or an independent study assignment, as determined by the department and the college offering the student’s major.”

The University of Wisconsin states that it may do one of the following:

  • identify an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement within the semester in question;
  • identify an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement prior to the expiration of the four calendar years covered by the Agreement;
  • provide the opportunity to take the required course or an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement at no tuition cost to the student after the expiration of the four calendar years covered by the Agreement.

These graduation guarantees finally put some responsibility on the university to meet its obligations in terms of course availability. Even the fact that certain majors are excluded from the programs is useful information. The student will know that even though it seems like a four-year degree, the chances are it won’t be completed in four years.

So will these programs result in a dramatic increase in graduation rates for the participating colleges?

Not likely.

According to the University of Pacific which has had a program since 1991, they end up paying extra tuition for two students a year. The university’s four-year graduation rate is only 43%.

Winona State University actually dropped its four-year guarantee. The Director of Admissions told The Chronicle of Higher Education that “We never had a student make a claim, so we felt we didn’t need the language to instruct us to be good.”

I’m not sure what he meant by “be good” given that Winona State University’s four-year graduation rate was a consistent 25-26% from 2004 to 2010.

Winona State University Graduation Rates

Furthermore, like the tuition guarantee programs, there is a tendency for people to place a higher monetary value than it is actually worth. People see “4 year guarantee” and think “fifth year free!” Too many of those considering a private school think of the guarantee worth $50,000 or more.

The reality is that the college will pay for the tuition of the remaining classes you need to graduate which is probably only one or two. You’re still out for the books and living expenses.

It remains to be seen how effective these programs actually are especially at public universities. Will the cost of tuition for an extra class or two be worth those associated with an effective advising system and ensuring an adequate number of seats for required classes?

Ultimately, it would seem that these programs aren’t a major risk for the offering universities. The horror stories making the news about students not able to graduate because of the lack of classes probably don’t represent the principle reason why students don’t graduate on time. I suspect that those students are easily outnumbered by those who fail a class, have to cut back on classes in order to work, or change majors at a late date.

Four-year graduation guarantees represent even less financial value, the tuition of a class or two, than the tuition guarantee programs. However, for the few students who the colleges accommodate in these programs, it could be a huge difference. Instead of having to pay for the classes and living expenses, they can start being paid by working full-time jobs after graduation.

Below are 88 colleges that offer four-year graduation guarantees that I’ve found as of December 2014. There’s an increase of 11 institutions over last year’s count. The enrollment and graduation numbers are from the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet. 33 of the schools qualified as 50-50 schools.

Colleges with Four-Year Graduation Guarantees

NameStateTypeFull-time
Under-
graduates
4 yr
Grad
Rate
50-50
Alma CollegeMIPrivate137850yes
Ashland UniversityOHPrivate238943
Augustana CollegeILPrivate250973yes
Baldwin Wallace UniversityOHPrivate300350yes
Bethel CollegeKSPrivate48239
Birmingham Southern CollegeALPrivate116756yes
Boise State UniversityIDPublic123927
Buffalo State SUNYNYPublic829323
California Lutheran UniversityCAPrivate271752
California State Polytechnic University-PomonaCAPublic1840911
California State University-FresnoCAPublic1756914
California State University-FullertonCAPublic2668213
California State University-San BernardinoCAPublic1449911
California University of PennsylvaniaPAPublic564936yes
Cedar Crest CollegePAPrivate64049yes
Chaminade University of HonoluluHIPrivate166120
Columbia CollegeMOPrivate944232
Concordia University-NebraskaNEPrivate112638
Culver-Stockton CollegeMOPrivate77236
Dakota Wesleyan UniversitySDPrivate69833
DePauw UniversityINPrivate227874yes
Doane College-CreteNEPrivate110660yes
Dominican University of CaliforniaCAPrivate129838
Eastern Illinois UniversityILPublic732733yes
Florida Southern CollegeFLPrivate212647
Fort Hays State UniversityKSPublic544917
Fresno Pacific UniversityCAPrivate212648
Green Mountain CollegeVTPrivate57331
Hamline UniversityMNPrivate208754yes
Indiana State UniversityINPublic913122
Jacksonville UniversityFLPrivate219527
Juniata CollegePAPrivate155571yes
Kentucky Wesleyan CollegeKYPrivate62125
Lebanon Valley CollegePAPrivate164867yes
Manchester UniversityINPrivate117944
Medaille CollegeNYPrivate158636
Midland UniversityNEPrivate116438
Milwaukee School of EngineeringWIPrivate228436
Minnesota State University-MoorheadMNPublic510721
Montana State UniversityMTPublic1101220
Nebraska Wesleyan UniversityNEPrivate160551yes
Northern Arizona UniversityAZPublic1876930
Ohio Northern UniversityOHPrivate219451yes
Portland State UniversityORPublic1511516
Randolph-Macon CollegeVAPrivate129549yes
Regis CollegeMAPrivate94841
Regis UniversityCOPrivate254147
Saint Mary's CollegeINPrivate146974yes
Saint Norbert CollegeWIPrivate211465yes
Sierra Nevada CollegeNVPrivate52937
Southern Virginia UniversityVAPrivate64019
St Catherine UniversityMNPrivate218839
Sterling CollegeKSPrivate59520
SUNY at FredoniaNYPublic495848yes
SUNY College at OswegoNYPublic694938yes
Texas Tech UniversityTXPublic2433837yes
The College of Saint ScholasticaMNPrivate242357yes
Transylvania UniversityKYPrivate106968yes
Trine UniversityINPrivate142932
Unity CollegeMEPrivate54636
University at BuffaloNYPublic1817644yes
University of Arkansas at Little RockARPublic55527
University of Arkansas at MonticelloARPublic249313
University of Arkansas at Pine BluffARPublic23008
University of Arkansas-Fort SmithARPublic51169
University of Colorado BoulderCOPublic2385342yes
University of Colorado DenverCOPublic765018
University of IowaIAPublic1952247yes
University of Maine at FarmingtonMEPublic178341yes
University of Minnesota-CrookstonMNPublic130531
University of Minnesota-DuluthMNPublic898928yes
University of Minnesota-MorrisMNPublic181547yes
University of Minnesota-Twin CitiesMNPublic2894050
University of Nebraska at KearneyNEPublic477722
University of Nebraska at OmahaNEPublic951114
University of Nebraska-LincolnNEPublic1810229yes
University of Northern IowaIAPublic933038yes
University of the PacificCAPrivate378043
University of Wisconsin-MadisonWIPublic2823753yes
University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeWIPublic1878914
University of Wisconsin-StoutWIPublic678218
Vanguard University of Southern CaliforniaCAPrivate157745
Virginia Wesleyan CollegeVAPrivate134842
Washington & Jefferson CollegePAPrivate131870
West Texas A & M UniversityTXPublic552124
Western Illinois UniversityILPublic880531yes
Western Michigan UniversityMIPublic1587924
William Jewell CollegeMOPrivate101161yes

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