Numbers of early graduates on the rise

By Anna Waugh

As tuition prices have risen over the past decade, the percentage of students who graduate early, in only seven semesters, has gone up as well. At the same time the percentage of students graduating late, in nine semesters, has shrunk.Every year, 15 to 30 students graduate in December. While this number has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade, the percentage of these students graduating early as opposed to graduating late has been on the rise and now constitutes a majority of this group. This year, the registrar is estimating that 15 seniors will graduate at the end of the fall semester.

This is a change from the mid-nineties, when there were more students taking an extra semester to finish and fewer graduating early.

Dan Balik, the director of Institutional Research, attributes this change to rising tuition.

“It’s very expensive to fool around for a semester,” Balik said.

Just a decade ago, tuition for a year at Macalester was $17,580, only slightly more than half of this year’s $33,494 price tag. This gives students a stronger motivation to graduate early to save on the cost of tuition, avoid taking on more loans, and end school early to have a chance to start making money.

“Graduating early allows me to work and make money for nine months before going to law school next year,” said Matt Bergeron ’08, who will graduate this December. He has a full-time job lined up for the spring doing legal writing at the Nepp & Hackert law firm in downtown Minneapolis.

At Macalester, students graduate as soon as they finish all of their major and distribution requirements. For students who start school with Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits, this makes graduating early easier.

“It’s a little scary, but I’m ready for it,” Sara Langhinrichs ’08 said.
Langhinrichs said she has gone back and forth on making the decision to graduate in December since her first year at Macalester, and now that she has made her decision, she is still considering a number of options for the upcoming year, including doing political work for the presidential primary in New Hampshire and going to graduate school near the U.S.-Mexico border.

For its part, Macalester neither encourages nor discourages students to graduate in December.

“The school cares that students succeed at earning their degree, and we want it to happen in the time frame that works for them,” Registrar Jayne Niemi said.

While the percentage of students graduating early is going up, it has not been enough to hit the school’s budget with lost tuition revenue. Every year, the budget office plans for a drop-off of 50 to 60 students between the fall and spring semesters, and December graduates are included in this calculation, Balik said.

The school supports December graduates by allowing them to walk with their entering class in the spring graduation ceremony, encouraging participation in senior week, and holding a small cocktail party in December to celebrate their completion.