Guaranteed tuition programs are one way to save money although they probably have a greater effect at public colleges than private ones. The other guarantee program popping up with increasing frequency is a four-year college graduation guarantee. This means that if it takes you more than four years to graduate, the college will pay for the remaining classes needed to graduate. Given that the average four-year graduation rate is less than 50%, this is an appealing offer.
But how good of an offer is it?
There are two common criticisms of the graduation guarantee. The first is that it’s only being offered by schools that already have a high graduation rate. A closer look at the graduation rates of these schools shows that this criticism has little foundation in reality. The average graduation rate of the 88 colleges I’ve identified with guaranteed four-year graduation is 37%. This is little different from the 39% four-year graduation rate reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The second knock against such programs is as one parent tells the New York Times, “There seemed to be a lot of reasons for it not to be their fault and to pay for that fifth year.”
These programs do include a list of requirements that should a student fail to meet them, would release the college from its obligation to pay for the remaining classes. But here’s the interesting part, these requirements tend to be things that students should be doing anyway. They include meeting with an advisor, registering early, using degree completion check tools, taking full course loads, and so on.
And here is where I see the value of college graduation guarantees. In the past, especially at public universities, a student could do all the “right” things and still be short a class through no fault of her own. Depending on the bureaucracy, the response was often “tough luck, see you next semester.”
But now if advisors see students are going to have problems meeting the requirements, they have an incentive to provide students with an alternative means to satisfy the requirements. The University of the Pacific states that it will substitute “a different course or an independent study assignment, as determined by the department and the college offering the student’s major.”
The University of Wisconsin states that it may do one of the following:
- identify an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement within the semester in question;
- identify an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement prior to the expiration of the four calendar years covered by the Agreement;
- provide the opportunity to take the required course or an alternative means to satisfy the applicable course requirement at no tuition cost to the student after the expiration of the four calendar years covered by the Agreement.
These graduation guarantees finally put some responsibility on the university to meet its obligations in terms of course availability. Even the fact that certain majors are excluded from the programs is useful information. The student will know that even though it seems like a four-year degree, the chances are it won’t be completed in four years.
So will these programs result in a dramatic increase in graduation rates for the participating colleges?
According to the University of Pacific which has had a program since 1991, they end up paying extra tuition for two students a year. The university’s four-year graduation rate is only 43%.
Winona State University actually dropped its four-year guarantee. The Director of Admissions told The Chronicle of Higher Education that “We never had a student make a claim, so we felt we didn’t need the language to instruct us to be good.”
I’m not sure what he meant by “be good” given that Winona State University’s four-year graduation rate was a consistent 25-26% from 2004 to 2010.
Furthermore, like the tuition guarantee programs, there is a tendency for people to place a higher monetary value than it is actually worth. People see “4 year guarantee” and think “fifth year free!” Too many of those considering a private school think of the guarantee worth $50,000 or more.
The reality is that the college will pay for the tuition of the remaining classes you need to graduate which is probably only one or two. You’re still out for the books and living expenses.
It remains to be seen how effective these programs actually are especially at public universities. Will the cost of tuition for an extra class or two be worth those associated with an effective advising system and ensuring an adequate number of seats for required classes?
Ultimately, it would seem that these programs aren’t a major risk for the offering universities. The horror stories making the news about students not able to graduate because of the lack of classes probably don’t represent the principle reason why students don’t graduate on time. I suspect that those students are easily outnumbered by those who fail a class, have to cut back on classes in order to work, or change majors at a late date.
Four-year graduation guarantees represent even less financial value, the tuition of a class or two, than the tuition guarantee programs. However, for the few students who the colleges accommodate in these programs, it could be a huge difference. Instead of having to pay for the classes and living expenses, they can start being paid by working full-time jobs after graduation.
Below are 88 colleges that offer four-year graduation guarantees that I’ve found as of December 2014. There’s an increase of 11 institutions over last year’s count. The enrollment and graduation numbers are from the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet. 33 of the schools qualified as 50-50 schools.
Colleges with Four-Year Graduation Guarantees
Name State Type Full-time
Alma College MI Private 1378 50 yes
Ashland University OH Private 2389 43 Augustana College IL Private 2509 73 yes
Baldwin Wallace University OH Private 3003 50 yes
Bethel College KS Private 482 39 Birmingham Southern College AL Private 1167 56 yes
Boise State University ID Public 12392 7 Buffalo State SUNY NY Public 8293 23 California Lutheran University CA Private 2717 52 California State Polytechnic University-Pomona CA Public 18409 11 California State University-Fresno CA Public 17569 14 California State University-Fullerton CA Public 26682 13 California State University-San Bernardino CA Public 14499 11 California University of Pennsylvania PA Public 5649 36 yes
Cedar Crest College PA Private 640 49 yes
Chaminade University of Honolulu HI Private 1661 20 Columbia College MO Private 9442 32 Concordia University-Nebraska NE Private 1126 38 Culver-Stockton College MO Private 772 36 Dakota Wesleyan University SD Private 698 33 DePauw University IN Private 2278 74 yes
Doane College-Crete NE Private 1106 60 yes
Dominican University of California CA Private 1298 38 Eastern Illinois University IL Public 7327 33 yes
Florida Southern College FL Private 2126 47 Fort Hays State University KS Public 5449 17 Fresno Pacific University CA Private 2126 48 Green Mountain College VT Private 573 31 Hamline University MN Private 2087 54 yes
Indiana State University IN Public 9131 22 Jacksonville University FL Private 2195 27 Juniata College PA Private 1555 71 yes
Kentucky Wesleyan College KY Private 621 25 Lebanon Valley College PA Private 1648 67 yes
Manchester University IN Private 1179 44 Medaille College NY Private 1586 36 Midland University NE Private 1164 38 Milwaukee School of Engineering WI Private 2284 36 Minnesota State University-Moorhead MN Public 5107 21 Montana State University MT Public 11012 20 Nebraska Wesleyan University NE Private 1605 51 yes
Northern Arizona University AZ Public 18769 30 Ohio Northern University OH Private 2194 51 yes
Portland State University OR Public 15115 16 Randolph-Macon College VA Private 1295 49 yes
Regis College MA Private 948 41 Regis University CO Private 2541 47 Saint Mary's College IN Private 1469 74 yes
Saint Norbert College WI Private 2114 65 yes
Sierra Nevada College NV Private 529 37 Southern Virginia University VA Private 640 19 St Catherine University MN Private 2188 39 Sterling College KS Private 595 20 SUNY at Fredonia NY Public 4958 48 yes
SUNY College at Oswego NY Public 6949 38 yes
Texas Tech University TX Public 24338 37 yes
The College of Saint Scholastica MN Private 2423 57 yes
Transylvania University KY Private 1069 68 yes
Trine University IN Private 1429 32 Unity College ME Private 546 36 University at Buffalo NY Public 18176 44 yes
University of Arkansas at Little Rock AR Public 5552 7 University of Arkansas at Monticello AR Public 2493 13 University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff AR Public 2300 8 University of Arkansas-Fort Smith AR Public 5116 9 University of Colorado Boulder CO Public 23853 42 yes
University of Colorado Denver CO Public 7650 18 University of Iowa IA Public 19522 47 yes
University of Maine at Farmington ME Public 1783 41 yes
University of Minnesota-Crookston MN Public 1305 31 University of Minnesota-Duluth MN Public 8989 28 yes
University of Minnesota-Morris MN Public 1815 47 yes
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities MN Public 28940 50 University of Nebraska at Kearney NE Public 4777 22 University of Nebraska at Omaha NE Public 9511 14 University of Nebraska-Lincoln NE Public 18102 29 yes
University of Northern Iowa IA Public 9330 38 yes
University of the Pacific CA Private 3780 43 University of Wisconsin-Madison WI Public 28237 53 yes
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee WI Public 18789 14 University of Wisconsin-Stout WI Public 6782 18 Vanguard University of Southern California CA Private 1577 45 Virginia Wesleyan College VA Private 1348 42 Washington & Jefferson College PA Private 1318 70 West Texas A & M University TX Public 5521 24 Western Illinois University IL Public 8805 31 yes
Western Michigan University MI Public 15879 24 William Jewell College MO Private 1011 61 yes
Learn how to find the affordable, quality colleges using the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet. Try the introduction for free!