by: Andrew Hayward
Four years is an extensive period of time when considering the development of a young person. Sure, most incoming college freshmen are fully-formed physical adults, but how many maintain the same mindset, behaviors, or interests after that four-to-six year experience comes to a close?
There is no way to guarantee success as a college student, much less control other variables. There are a number of questions typically thought to be most common in determining one’s ability to graduate with a degree. Can you maintain your grades at a high level? Can you pay your bills, academic or otherwise? Will you be healthy enough to attend class and finish your work?
For some, those questions are less important than the ones dealing with emotion and interest. Will I still care about my intended major in a few years? Does attending class and furthering my education make me happy? Do I need a college degree to do what I want with my life? Both sets of questions are important, but to some, the pursuit of happiness, immediate or long-term, handily trumps the need to prove one’s worth with a handshake and a paper degree.
Though you may recognize a lot of familiar faces from your freshman year, the national graduation rate shows that a significant amount of students are not sticking around long enough to earn a degree. An Associated Press article published last November stated that just 54 percent of students who started at a four-year college in 1997 had a degree within six years.
Similar data obtained from the
Mary DeGraw, associate vice president and dean of retention at
“We do see students leaving who change their career interests [and] some that are only going to school to satisfy their parents,” DeGraw claims, later stating that some “leave to go to work because they are offered an opportunity to make some good money and feel they cannot refuse.”
Sam McKnight, a former student at
“There was little to no encouragement to do anything other than marketing with graphic design, and I didn't want anything to do with marketing,” McKnight said, “I wanted to make art.” Despite this, he does not place blame, noting that “the art faculty was really encouraging when it came to being creative.”
McKnight also feels like the lack of a personal support base deteriorated his desire to attend class. Though he went to high school in nearby
After a year, he moved into an apartment, the first of three he would occupy during his final two years at Lewis. Between the struggle to find stable roommates and the lack of regular familial contact, McKnight began skipping class on a regular basis and was not making much progress towards his degree. “My parents are a huge support tool for me, and having them live two states away kind of lowered my eagerness to go to class.”
Eight semesters into his college experience, Sam McKnight could have had a degree in hand. Instead, he is living in
McKnight is still undecided on whether he will finish his college degree, though if he did, it would be with a different major. He has considered obtaining an associate’s degree in business to enhance his abilities in the workplace, especially with his interest in eventually being promoted to a store manager position.
McKnight may not have all the answers at this point, but he has a realistic idea of how he wants to live his life: “I hope to lead a life where I can be comfortable and not have to live paycheck to paycheck. It might take me a little while to get there but I'm willing to put my all into it.” McKnight intends to move out on his own early next year and work towards self-sufficiency in the wake of bills leftover from his time spent at Lewis.
His story is not unique; if trends continue, roughly half of the incoming freshmen at Lewis this year will not have a degree within six years. Even if college becomes more affordable (which in turn may make young lives more manageable), a massively increased graduation rate cannot be expected. Not everyone is built for the long-term college experience, and many need to figure that out via personal experience. While a college degree can be a helpful tool, it cannot be considered a necessary key to a happy existence.