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Students Will Make $500K More In a Lifetime Doing This

© Courtesy of D. Webber
A researcher has found the key to student success: Graduate in four years.

Getting a part-time job is helpful to finance a college education. But too much time at work rather than class makes it less likely a student will graduate.

Douglas Webber, an associate professor in economics at Temple University in Pennsylvania, suggests that even students who are close to flunking out of school will be rewarded financially if they “stay with it” and find a way to graduate.

Why is finishing college in four years so important?

For one thing, Webber said, scholarships and assistance that help many pay for college generally stop after four years. So the cost of each additional year of college is likely to come almost entirely from the student and/or parents.

But there are other reasons that taking more than four years is a problem, the researcher says.

“It’s because life gets in the way, other things happen,” Webber says. “For any number of reasons it is in your best interest to try to get out as soon as possible.”

Webber says the longer a student stays in college, the more likely something will happen to interrupt her or his studies. It could be a family illness, a parent losing a job, or the student running out of money for tuition.

In addition, a longer college career means less time at a job.

“It’s another year or two out of the labor market,” and that means lost income, Webber said.

The latest information shows a majority of students are not graduating in four years. For students who entered four-year colleges in 2009, only about 4-in-10 graduated within four years, according to The Digest of Education Statistics.

Webber's research suggests part-time work of 15 hours or less will not negatively impact school performance. But students who work 20 hours or more a week are about 15 percent less likely to graduate on time, or graduate at all.

School sports that require many hours can also hinder graduation, Webber says. It is common, he said, for student athletes to spend 20 hours or more for training, travel and to play games against teams from other universities.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education looked at graduation rates for students at 65 universities with big sports programs.

It found 68.5 percent of student athletes graduated within six years. That compared to 75 percent of all undergraduates at those schools.

What about struggling students?

Webber’s newest research, done with Ben Ost and Victor Pan of the University of Illinois, looked at students who are struggling to pass their courses. He said a popular misconception is that some students who are close to flunking out of school would be better off cutting their losses and leaving without a degree.

But he said his team’s research shows a strong return for those students who manage to struggle through and get a degree.

Webber, also a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor, looked at earnings information for people who dropped out of college and students on probation because of low grades who still managed to graduate.

The bottom line, he said, is that students who “persisted” and got their degree earn about $500,000 more over their lifetimes than those who gave up or were forced out of school.

“There is a massive difference in your earnings outcome if you’re going from 119 credits (one short of graduation requirements) to 120 credits and a degree,” Webber said.

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