Waiting Jobs, Higher Costs
Make More Four-Year Grads

by Kathleen Scalise

With the conclusion of another graduation season on campus, Berkeley undergraduates are earning their degrees quicker than ever. The trend toward speedy pursuit of the bachelor's degree is driving the four-year graduation rate to unprecedented heights-up 62 percent in the last decade-and student advisers see no end in sight.

"Students are graduating faster and more students are graduating," says Gregg Thomson, director of student research.

The latest numbers show 47.5 percent of students who entered Berkeley as freshmen had graduated four years later. This compares to only 29.3 percent of undergraduates who graduated this quickly less than a decade ago.

The trend is both steady and dramatic, according to Thomson. Explanations vary from discipline to discipline.

However, many student advisers cite such contributing factors as a booming job market, the increase in fees and the improvement in student support and technology services on campus.

In the College of Engineering, for example, "fewer and fewer of our students are opting to stay an extra semester because the economy is very good and these students realize that with this slip of paper I can start working at $40,000 a year, at 21 years old," explains William Webster, engineering's associate dean for student affairs.

"So they realize if they stay on an extra semester, they lose $20,000. It's industry as much as anything that's driving this."

Webster says this year, for the first time ever, he has seen companies offer undergraduates so-called "signing bonuses" to encourage them to come aboard. "In January companies were offering as much as $5,000 cash on the barrelhead to students graduating in May who agreed to work for a set amount of time after graduation," he says.

Another contributing factor may be the mindset of today's students, according to Margaret DiStasi, director of undergraduate advising for the College of Letters and Science.

"If you're looking ahead to a PhD or graduate school of any kind, you know you've got to move along. Students have gotten more goal oriented than in the '70s and '80s," she says. She also notes that as fees rise, "students feel they need to get out of here faster."

Thomson says that not only are students graduating quicker, but overall graduation rates are up for the campus. The six-year graduation rate is up from 67.9 percent to 80.3 percent over the last 10 years.

"I estimate that about 85 percent of both current entering freshmen and community college transfers will eventually receive a degree from Berkeley," he says.



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