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At UMass Boston, 'Super Seniors' are the Norm

Posted by Alex Pearlman  September 22, 2011 06:35 PM

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cake.jpgApproximately 50% of college-bound students in the United States will not graduate within the expected four years, according to 2009 USAToday story. At UMass Boston, older students and "super seniors," those who stay past the four years, are the norm.

The school's four-year graduation rate is about 12%, while the six-year graduation rate is 45.7% -- almost four times the four-year rate -- according to a 2003 report, the most recent data available on UMass Boston's website.* But before you write that half off as unmotivated party animals, consider the other factors that may cause dedicated students to fall behind -- transferring schools, a switch in majors, their financial situation, or other obligations like work, family, or health issues.

"'If students only had to worry about school, I'm sure [graduating in four years] would be more common, but here, a lot of students aren't even our age," said UMass Boston student Daniel Jung. Nationally, 95 percent of freshmen and 67 percent of seniors are 23 years old or younger; at UMass Boston, those numbers drop to 72 percent and 32 percent, respectively, according to another 2003 report.

"Sometimes students can't afford to be a full-time student. Sometimes family situations and obligations on the side factor [into that]," Jung said.

Nationally, according to the latter report, 13 percent of freshmen and 30 percent of seniors work more than 20 hours per week at an off-campus job. But at UMass Boston, the totals rise to 45 percent of freshmen and 52 percent of seniors.

"There was a semester I was taking three science courses and working," said Vladimir Jean-Phillipe, a biology major who transferred to UMass Boston during his second year of college." Working and going to school is not easy at all."

In order to balance school and work, some students even drop to part-time status. Only 73 percent of UMass Boston freshmen and 62 percent of seniors are full-time students, compared to 95 percent and 83 percent, respectively, at the national level, again according to the latter report.

UMass Boston students are also more likely to have transferred from the school at which they began college. Nineteen percent of the school's freshmen and 76 percent of seniors said they had transferred in the second 2003 report, versus 7 percent and 39 percent, respectively, nationally. Making up for lost credits can extend a student's college career.

"Courses sometimes do not transfer over [because] a course is not at the same level as the university's requirements, not taught at the university, does not apply to graduation because of its technical nature, or does not fall under any course grouping," said Robert Guimond, a biology professor at UMass Boston.

Switching majors or taking on a minor or second major may also affect a student's graduation date. An extra degree means more course requirements and an amount of classes not designed to fit into only four years. And students like Gayla Berg, a UMass Amherst alum who changed her course of study from biology to chemical engineering, may find themselves with a transcript full of classes that are meaningless for their new major.

"Unfortunately, in engineering disciplines, missing one class often sets you back an entire year, since most classes are prerequisites for the following semester," Berg said. "I was lucky that I was able to graduate one semester late instead of two."

*Author's note: UMass officials could not be reached for comment or newer data.

Photo by CarbonNYC (Flickr)

By Christi Kim -- I'm a student and copy editor in Boston. I have an interest in pretty much everything. I like to spend my free time as part photographer, writer, graphic designer, foodie, artist, and musician. I enjoy reading in a quiet sunlit room and watching movies with friends.

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