If anyone can recall the legendary Van Wilder from the 2002 teen hit movie Van Wilder, Wilder strayed in college an extra four years past his graduation term. During that time, he perfected his skills with the ladies and threw parties, courtesy of his Daddy’s paychecks. In essence, Wilder was the guy every girl wanted to get with and every guy wanted to be.
“No party gets started until it gets Wilder,” Wilder said.
So, what’s the deal? Does the “Van Wilder fantasy” exist on campus today? Are students lingering in college longer out of comfort?
Stevan Nape, the Vice Provost for Enrollment Planning and Management at Radford University, confirms that data suggests students are graduating later. While the total number of degrees distributed in the last few years has increased, graduation rates within the four year term have decreased, and graduates within the six year term have increased.
There are six major reasons why students may not receive their diplomas within the expected term: (1) financial dilemmas, (2) the student transferred to or from another school, (3) the student studied abroad, (4) the student changed majors, (5) academic performances, or (6) disciplinary charges. Other reasons include: the student realizes that staying longer is an option, the student may not fit into the social setting at the attended university, or the student takes fewer credit hours per semester.
“I think they are afraid that they won’t be able to find a job, especially with the way that financial situations are in the economy right now,” Nape said.
Aside from having to think about finding a job after graduation, some students are already burdened by the demands of a part-time job while attending school. This may account for a longer graduation term. Other students are forced to apply for financial aid.
Assistant Director for Financial Aid Karen Hedge works with students to help them accomplish their academic goals.
“The biggest thing we do here is guide them [the students] in the right direction. We don’t do it for them, but we show them how to do it, so that in the future they can do it themselves,” she said.
She directs them to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website, which is how all aid is awarded at Radford. Anyone is eligible to get student loans. FAFSA just determines what makes that person eligible and what type of aid the student should obtain.
The application is government funded and looks at a student and his or her family’s assets, income, dependency, household size, and the number of students from the household in college. This is an accepted assumption that the parents will contribute to their child’s education.
According to Radford University’s 2010 Fact Book, 51 percent of undergraduates who graduated borrowed while enrolled in the 2009-2010 school year.
“We encourage students to take out the loans enough so that they can stay in college, and that’s why they’re there, but we also encourage not to take out so much debt, because when they get out, they can’t afford to pay it back,” Hedge said.
The government does have caps on how much money can be borrowed, but it also regulates how much a student can get each year. Generally, students who spend more than four or five years in college run out of loan funds and are not allowed to attempt more than 180 hours without a degree.
“Unfortunately, some students don’t realize that they’re hard up for money, but so are we,” Hedge said. “Financial aid is not limitless. We get only a certain amount of money and it has to go to those students we feel who need it.”
This dilemma goes hand in hand with the recently passed In-State Tuition Surcharge. The law works to discourage professional students from staying past the recommended graduation term, in which it states that “for the 2009-2010 academic year, the surcharge will amount to $187 per credit hour for all credits earned beyond 152 credits for BA/BS students.” In other words, students attending college beyond their recommended 152 credit hours will be charged a fee for every credit hour they take.
Some students feel this educational sacrifice for money is a vicious cycle. If it weren’t for the finances, staying in school longer could potentially provide a stronger foundation for a future career.
“The benefit of staying in school is furthering your education, but unfortunately, it’s too expensive to do that,” Junior Elizabeth Jackson said. “If I had the opportunity to get my master’s degree and my doctorate, I would definitely do that.”
Alumni Andrew Kinas agrees. He did not plan on staying an extra semester in school, but he transferred as a Social Science major from Lenior Ryan. Reality set in quick for him.
“I feel like it takes longer to get your degree than what your plan tells you. It’s better to take the extra time to know your stuff than finish early,” Kinas said.
Nonetheless, Nape warns that graduating late may not look good on a resume, as it reflects a student’s ability to get done on time. Even more importantly, the less people getting out into the job market, the harder the economy is hit. This is because a larger working class would feed a larger economy.
For these purposes, Radford University offers many opportunities to help students graduate on time. Some of these resources include: the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students, Disability Resources, Freshman Orientation, the Learning Assistance and Resource Center, McConnell Library, Multicultural and International Student Services, New Student Programs, Registrar, Residential Life, Residence Hall Association, Student Activities, Student Health Services, Student Support Services, and Substance Abuse and Sexual Abuse Services.
Ultimately, the best way to prevent not graduating on time is to come to college prepared.
Students should start researching their options in high school. They should use the career center, attend interest inventories and job seminars, take surveys, meet with strength career counselors and academic advisors, and simply talk with other college students. These would all help build a plan for success.
Sophomore Lucy Genidy hopes to be graduating a year early. She changed her major from Media Studies to Criminal Justice, but she took summer classes and had to override into classes for a couple of semesters to make up for lost time.
“It might be a little hard after I graduate, because I’m not going to be old enough to be a cop, but I feel like the Criminal Justice program has taught me a lot about what I’ll need to be prepared for,” Genidy said.
Debra Templeton and William Dixon of the Institutional Research Department at Radford deal with federal/state reporting for first generation statuses of students. They help with student financial aid, and report information on every student in terms of enrollment, graduation and employees.
They reported that annually, there are about 10,000 students at Radford University. There were 9,007 in the fall of 2010. A high 92 percent of these students came from Virginia, and another large percent came from out of state in the New England areas. Fifty-eight percent were female, and thirteen percent were minority students.
There are nearly 70 types of degrees available to students. The top five majors are: Pre-Major, Interdisciplinary Studies and Elementary Education, Exercise, Sports and Health Education, Pre-Business, and Criminal Justice. The top three degrees awarded are in History, Marketing, and Accounting. Very few students graduate with a BA versus a BS degree.
Like any other school, retention rates vary among students, but everyone is allowed the same opportunities and freedom to use as much time as they need to be successful and graduate. In fact, one of the beauties of college is a student’s ability to learn about oneself and what needs are right for him or her.
Collins Monette, a Business Administrations major and transfer student, will not be graduating on time. He says he feels concerned to enter the real world, but has become more confident as he takes more courses in his major.
“It’s all about the victory lap,” Monette said, in reference to his last two years in college.
This was the same part of the journey Van Wilder was forced to discover within himself. He had to recognize his fear of graduating and make a decision about his future beyond college. In the end, Wilder chose facing the unknown in the real world over living in a “college fantasy”.
Congratulations, Spring Class of 2011!
Radford University Fact Book