Bound, J., Lovenheim, M. and Turner, S. (2010) Increasing Time to Baccalaureate Degree in the United States Cambridge MA: National Bureau of Economic Research

This paper answers two important questions: Is it taking students longer these days to graduate at the bachelor’s level? And if so, why?

The answer: yes, more students today are taking longer than in 1972, and the reason is that in the non-elite public universities, instructor:student ratios have deteriorated and students have to work more as well as study to pay tuition fees and other costs.

To obtain a copy of the full report, go to:

For a full description of the report see:

Jaschik, S. (2010) Why they take so long Inside Higher Education, April 14

The reason I find this interesting is that the elite schools still have ‘regular’ completion rates and have in fact improved their instructor:student ratio, and their students, presumably because they come from wealthier families, do not need to work so much. This suggests to me that the mass of state and public institutions need to provide even more flexibility in their delivery and need to change their teaching methods to increase interaction with students in larger classes: all of which can be assisted by technology, if this is accompanied by other strategies as well.


  1. Well, you can play around with the delivery model and add flexibility, but if a person has to work 20 hours a week (as I did) then they’re going to take five years to complete (as I did). It’s not like the people who work have extra hours available that could be used for learning if only universities were more flexible.

    Solving that issue doesn’t involve fixing the university, it involves removing the need to work while learning (or, conversely, forcing the elites to work, which would be fun to watch, but not productive). As a society, we are probably not at the point of giving poor students the same accommodations as we do rich students, and indeed, have somehow been convinced that it is morally wrong to do so.


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