Not many years ago, college students expected they would be off campus with bachelor's degrees to hang on the walls within four years. But now, some standard guides to higher education use as benchmarks the percentages of students who complete their studies within six years.
That additional two years can cost the equivalent of what it takes to buy a "starter" home or several new cars. Looked at another way, it can bury students under mountains of debt they can never overcome.
Many institutions of higher learning, including several in our area, are working hard to get back to the schedule of four years for a bachelor's degree. But more needs to be done, on an accelerated timetable.
Public universities in West Virginia are being required to standardize the number of credit-hours needed for most bachelor's degrees, at 120. At 15 credits per semester, that should make it relatively easy for most students to obtain their B.A. or B.S. degrees within four years.
But the deadline for public universities to comply with state Higher Education Policy Commission mandate is 2017. That is nearly five years from now.
One wonders how the higher education establishment expects to convince students it is important to do things expeditiously when it moves at the speed of a tortoise.
There are many obstacles, some beyond the control of state university officials and professors, in the way of such reform. For example, national accreditation organizations must grant their approval - and that simple step can take years.
And the 120-hour rule is no panacea. Many other changes, including ensuring required classes are scheduled so students can take them on time, are needed. In addition, students themselves have to take more responsibility for registering for the classes they need, not just those that sound easy or interesting.
This is not rocket science. Some students still earn their four-year degrees in four years. Clearly, however, there has been a change in higher education priorities among some students and at some institutions - and not for the better. Colleges and universities that find ways to get back to the good old days should - and will, we believe - be rewarded with higher enrollments.