Professor of medicine Gerry Boss reports that compared to other UC schools, “UC San Diego is on the low end of the four-year graduation rate.”
  • Professor of medicine Gerry Boss reports that compared to other UC schools, “UC San Diego is on the low end of the four-year graduation rate.”

The public relations department at UCSD has long touted good news about the school’s purported academic standing, omitting the not-so-good. “The campus took the No. 18 spot in U.S. News and World Report’s first-ever global ranking of universities which measured factors such as research, global and regional reputation, international collaboration as well as number of highly-cited papers and doctorates awarded,” noted an October news release.

The minutes of the school’s October faculty senate meeting told a more nuanced story. “Compared to the other UC campuses, UC San Diego is on the low end of the four-year graduation rate at just under 60% of undergraduates graduating in four years,” chairman Gerry Boss, a professor of medicine, told the assembly. He added that there was “continuing pressure to reduce time to degree from the Governor and the State Legislature.”

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If SDSU could do that well, there would be rejoicing on the mesa. The old "San Diego State disease" of people taking more like six years to graduate, and many even longer at that campus has improved marginally in recent years, but still embarrasses the operation.

In the case of UCSD, it might be due to a disproportionately large part of the student body majoring in the sciences and engineering. UCSD was long reputed to be heavily skewed in that direction, although I've seen no recent stats on that or how it compares to other UC's. Those subjects are vastly more challenging than liberal arts and social sciences, hence they often require more time to complete. In fact, not too long ago, engineering majors were counseled to plan on taking five years to graduate. Nonetheless, a "four year degree" should not require more than four years for most students, and while UCSD still has a solid majority of its students earning the BA/BS degree in four years, it can do better. I'd be curious to know what that rate is for the other campuses, and which one is showing the highest rate.

What's the rush? Students now have to learn all the stuff up to Newton, which could easily take four years, and then up to Einstein, give 'em another couple, and then up to today, which I am still working on, and I graduated from UCSD (with what we in the ed biz call a "terminal degree") in 1972. The people who want education to be a profitable business may want MacStudents, but as a college professor, I would say six years is plenty quick, especially if they are going to live life a bit and work in reality during that time. That IRL experience could be the most valuable time they spend in those years.

Professor, I think you are ignoring or overlooking some things in our culture and economy that don't support the idea of spending six years on a bachelor's degree. There are two costs, the first being the actual cost of attending a university for added years. The second is opportunity cost, that of foregone income due to the delay in starting a career. Many young people are raring to get started on a career and find it frustrating that they spend even four years getting that degree that opens the doors for consideration.

Years ago I had a cousin who possessed one of those terminal degrees you describe, and she expressed mild horror at the notion that getting that first degree took even four years. She advocated cutting it to three (or even fewer) years by taking a heavy load each term and also going at it full-time during the summer. To her that degree was just a hurdle that had to be cleared prior to getting into real, serious graduate or professional study.

So, what's the rush? Many or most students can't benefit from that living "life a bit" or working "in reality." Instead for many it is just a period of extended adolescence that burns up some of the best years of their lives, and delays the progression of life to household formation, marriage, and child bearing and raising.

One of my sons, a law school grad and practicing attorney, calls the bachelor's degree "the new high school diploma" as far as how society values it. If that is all it means career-wise, then it needs to be tackled seriously and completed in the four years allotted.

The UCs gave up on quality undergraduate education a long time ago. Huge classes, lots of TAs and graders, inaccessible professors who are there to do research and see undergraduates as a hindrance and a bother. They still attract good students, which shows the importance of a great brand name, even when the reality no longer fits the image.

I agree about the low priority UC assigns to undergraduate courses. But that isn't unique to the UC at all. One prestige university that was severely criticized in recent years in regard to its undergrad program is Stanford. The classes and the housing for such students there were substandard, yet for far too long students endured it because of the value of being able to say "I'm a Stanford graduate." The whole thing is widespread and of varying severity. But for anyone on the outside, it is very hard to judge a university's commitment to its undergraduates. They all proclaim that they treat them wonderfully well.

Visduh, many things have changed in the last few years. The rate individuals learn at hasn't. Preparing young people for today's world, a world far more complex and mercurial than ever, has to be factored. Hustle somebody through school and give them a diploma? That's Land of Oz or a for-profit edu-corp. Besides, today's students will still be working to an age few even lived to a generation ago, so let's be realistic about the time scale. There's no reason to believe it costs more for a student to get the required units to graduate in six rather than four years, especially if they work or help somebody else go to school or have a kid during that period. Kids now-a-days aren't like we were, thank goodness. They face uncertainty we never expected: much of what they study is a moving target and will be obsolete or revised by the time they graduate. The field they prepare for may well have sunset. When I studied DNA I actually learned a lot, relatively, because nobody knew much. Have you looked at a college syllabus lately?

While much that you mention is true, I do take exception to your claim that "There's no reason to believe it costs more for a student to get the required units to graduate in six rather than four years . . ." At a UC campus, you don't pay by the unit taken. Rather there is a flat rate for everything in full-time status, and a reduced rate for part-time that is still substantial. And then, I must remind, there is the opportunity cost.

I feel for those young people and all the uncertainty of a rapidly changing economy and world. While you aver that the rate at which people learn hasn't increased, I can also point out that the aging of the female reproductive system is also the same as it always was. If a young woman takes her time in a university and graduates with a pile of debt, then establishes a career, then marries, then finally decides to have children, most or all of her biological clock will have run out. That's not healthy for society or the individuals involved. A generation or two ago we fretted about girls getting pregnant too young. Now we worry about them not getting pregnant at all if they go for higher education. Quite a turnabout.

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