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Why your child won't graduate from college on time

Expect your child to graduate from college in four years? Not likely.

The odds of getting a diploma on time are exceedingly low, according to a new report released this week by Complete College America, a nonprofit organization that works with states to improve graduation rates at public colleges and universities.

Across the U.S., only 50 out of more than 580 public four-year institutions graduate the majority of their full-time students in four years (see interactive map at bottom). At the University of Arizona, for instance, just over a third of students graduate on time, while at Auburn the figure is 36 percent. Other schools where most undergrads fail to complete their degree in fours years include Auburn (36 percent), University of Iowa (44 percent) and Michigan State (48 percent).

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At most public universities across the U.S., only 19 percent of full-time students manage to earn their bachelor's degree on time. At flagship schools, which typically serve as the premiere public university in their respective states, 36 percent graduate in four years.

Community colleges have an even worse record: only five percent of full-time community college students graduate in two years.

So what's the problem if junior takes an extra semester or three to finish school? Money. Delays in obtaining a bachelor's degree are costing families billions in extra college expenses. Factoring in all the expenses, an additional year of community college boosts the cost by roughly $16,000, according to Complete College America, while a one-year delay in earning a bachelor's degree hikes the price by nearly $23,000.

"Something is clearly wrong when the overwhelming majority of public colleges graduate less than 50 percent of their full-time students in four years," the group said.

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Complete College America added that two- and four-year degrees have become "little more than modern myths" for too many students. "The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long and graduates too few."

The report says a number of factors explain why students are taking longer to get a degree. They include:

Aimless course selection. College academic advisors are often in short supply. As a result, many students pick classes without knowing how the courses fit with their majors. The average grad with a bachelor's degree ends up earning 134 credits, when 120 credits is sufficient.

Courses aren't available. Thirty-three percent of students said they had not gotten into classes they wanted to take.

Students don't take full loads. Most full-time students do not take 15 hours of classes a semester, which automatically puts them on a five or six-year track.

Switching schools. Sixty percent of bachelor's degree recipients change colleges, and nearly half of them lose some or all of their credits because of poor transfer policies.

Remedial-course delay. Each year, 1.7 million students start their freshman year of college by taking remedial classes for no credit, including more than half of two-year students.

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