CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Four of five students at Shepherd University don't graduate within four years, and fewer than half, 46 percent, graduate within six years, according to school data.
However, Shepherd is ahead of the curve compared to the 43.8 percent average six-year graduation rate for West Virginia universities, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
The national six-year graduation rate is 55.5 percent.
Getting students into the workforce in a timely manner is a problem facing colleges across the country, said Dr. Kathy Butler, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the state Higher Education Policy Commission.
Butler said the commission is encouraging universities to streamline academic programs so that all bachelor's degrees require 120 credit hours. Associate degrees are to require 60 credit hours.
Different majors can require different numbers of credit hours. According to a national study, the average student has 137 credit hours upon graduation.
"This 120-degree movement . . . has forced us to look at what is important in a program," Butler said.
Shepherd is leading the pack in streamlining programs. Although Butler said every university in West Virginia is moving toward the 120-credit hour system, Shepherd has initiated its own redesigned curriculum.
That change went into effect in the fall, and the results were "a little unexpected," admitted Kimberly Scranage, Shepherd's vice president of enrollment management.
When offered the chance to adopt the new curriculum, 62 seniors were able to graduate earlier than expected, she said.
While none of those students graduated in less than four years, each was able to forgo a semester, Scranage said.
"With students being able to get out in a timely fashion, (they) won't have to borrow as much money," she said.
The cost of education and the amount of credit needed to earn a degree are some of the biggest factors working against students graduating on time, Scranage said.
Some programs require hefty amounts of credit, and Shepherd found that "students couldn't get it all in in four years," she said.
Many circumstances could lead to a student graduating late, Scranage and Butler said. Some students change majors, faculty or departments sometimes insist on splitting up classes or requiring more classes for graduation or a student might need to take remedial courses.
Looking back on her time as provost at Glenville State University, Butler said some students took classes that were fun but didn't count directly toward a degree.
"What they did is they took underwater basket weaving," Butler said. "They'll fill (their schedule) with things that really don't help them get their degree."
Her statements fall in line with a 2010 report from the Southern Regional Education Board. Entitled "No Time to Waste," the report suggests several ways colleges can shorten the time it takes to graduate. Butler said it served as the inspiration for the commission's 120-credit hour push.
In addition to the limit on credit hours, it encourages administrators and faculty to look for ways to efficiently combine or remove programs while still providing students with the training they need. Students also need to be held accountable for delayed graduation, according to the report.
"Students must also do their part to reduce excess courses by limiting the number of credits they take above the required minimum," the report states.