Temple U. Program Will Help Students Work Fewer Hours, Graduate on Time

Graduating on time can save students a lot of money. But for cost-conscious students working their way through college, on-time graduation presents a particular challenge. The amount students can earn in a minimum-wage job covers less of tuition than it used to, and many students work long hours.

With that in mind, Temple University announced on Monday a new program that will encourage students to graduate in four years and will reduce the amount of time needy students spend on the job.

Under the program, called “Fly in 4,” students who commit to fulfilling requirements including meeting with an adviser each semester and advancing in class standing each year will graduate on time—or the university will provide the remaining classes they need free. The university’s four-year graduation rate is 43 percent.

Temple is casting the program as an effort at affordability. Graduating on time helps students’ pocketbooks in two ways. It saves them from another year of paying tuition, quite possibly with loans. And it allows them to go on the job market with the benefit of a college degree more quickly.

“The biggest issue in higher education right now is the level of debt students are taking on,” said Neil D. Theobald, the university’s president. “The major factor in the amount of debt students at Temple take on is the length of time to degree.”

Reducing what Temple students borrow has been a big focus for Mr. Theobald, who became president in January 2013. Digging into Temple’s data, he found that borrowers who graduated in four years averaged $18,000 in loans, $10,000 less than the university’s overall average.

Talking with students who took more than four years to graduate, Mr. Theobald heard a common theme: their need to work. So the university will offer $4,000 grants to 500 students with high demonstrated need in each new entering class, with the specific goal of reducing their work hours. The grants will be on top of any other financial aid.

To get the grants, students will have to both sign the graduation pledge and commit to working no more than 10 hours a week. Research shows that working a small number of hours per week is associated with persistence and good grades in college, but working longer hours has the opposite relationship with those outcomes.

In a separate but related effort, Temple is working to create more on-campus student jobs. That effort should cut down on students’ commuting time and allow for more links between work and academic study.

Temple is not the first college to offer such a graduation guarantee. More than 40 colleges have done so, according to the university’s research. But some of those colleges have found that not many students sign up for the programs.

Mr. Theobald is aware of those challenges, having helped carry out one such program at Indiana University at Bloomington. The grant component, he said, should make Temple’s program more successful than some previous efforts.

Temple’s program will be available to new students enrolling this fall. About a third of the university’s new students transfer from community colleges. They are eligible for the program, but will have to work out a graduation plan based on the credits they arrive with.

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