A study conducted by U. Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that students who were able to complete bachelor’s degrees within four years will make between $5,800 and $6,200 more than those who completed the same degree in six years.
The study also found that those who took seven or more years to complete a bachelor’s degree were paid the same average salary as those who had not gone to college at all. The researchers stated many explanations for this finding in their study, including the idea that many employers view extended college stays as a negative reflection on a student’s ability to complete tasks. Another explanation is that those who completed their degrees within the four-year time period had more time in jobs and may already begin receiving raises and promotions.
“Finishing faster is a sign to employers that you are able to get things done, are efficient about it and hard working,” Bill Fox, a researcher from the group at UT, said. “All of these are positive signals.”
The New York Times conducts an annual study of the success rates for graduates from each school in the country. For 2011 UCF graduates, the starting median pay is a $40,800 salary, which is $11,000 less than the national average. However, by mid-career, those same graduates are making almost double the amount they received when they started.
Some students take a longer amount of time because they plan on pursuing a graduate degree post-graduation. Nicole Valdes, a summer 2011 U. Central Florida graduate, will attend the Stetson U. College of Law in the fall.
“My years as an undergrad allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming an attorney. It provided me with the critical-thinking skills and the educational foundation necessary to become a lawyer,” Valdes said. “In addition to time spent in the classroom, all the extracurricular and leadership opportunities I participated in helped with my professional development.
Valdes said that many factors should be considered when looking at how long a student takes to finish a degree, such as if the student had to work part time or full time.
Ashley Kohrt, a UCF alumna, now works at Florida Hospital as a residency coordinator after taking four and a half years to complete her degree in allied health sciences.
“I don’t feel as though not completing my degree in the society standard of four years has had any monetary effect on me, and that it has actually had a positive influence on my life because I was able to enjoy college and not feel pressured to finish quickly,” Kohrt said.
Bill Blank, the director of career development in Career Services, advised that the time a student spends in school is not always the issue.
“The standard for a college degree is now five years, so employers don’t tend to look at the length of time spent in school,” Blank said. “It’s about what he or she achieves while here by participating in clubs and other things offered on campus to get the best experience before they go into their field.”
According to a study done by the Complete College America foundation, 63 percent of UCF students will finish their four-year degree in six years.
“It is difficult to judge someone on their efficiency and hard-working ability based on when they graduate from college,” Kohrt said. “Most students spend their time changing their major and deciding what would be a good fit for them, which causes them to spend more time in school but isn’t a sign of their skills.”
Fox pointed out that the increase in yearly income could be due to stronger connections in the workforce. Building connections can lead to better jobs both monetarily and atmospherically, Fox said.
“For graduate students, time doesn’t matter,” biomedical sciences graduate student Andrew Teblum said. “Companies are looking more for the type of thesis work, publications and experience with equipment, which normally, longer means you are more experienced and therefore sometimes are actually more useful.”
“Students want to be happy where they decide to go, and sometimes finding their niche can take a little longer,” Kohrt said.