Whether you are a six-generation legacy at a university or the first in your family to go to college, acceptance is a big deal. Acceptance indicates the end of high school and the commencement of the tumultuous, eye-opening journey into higher education; there is a reason why high school graduations are called “commencements.”
Meanwhile, on move-in day, Freshman You will enter a campus inundated with signs that exclaim “Welcome Class of [add 4 years to the current year]!” and “Congratulations Class of [add 4 years to the current year]!” People will refer to you by the year in which you will supposedly graduate. Simultaneously, upperclassmen will recall myths of forlorn first years who did something mundane that delayed or prevented their graduation, be it walk through a gate or under an arch. Although such superstitions foster healthy camaraderie among undergraduates, they reveal underlying truths: namely, the deep-rooted expectation of students to graduate in four years, and the fear of not achieving this goal.
To complete an undergraduate degree in four years is a standard that millions of former students have achieved. However, with tuition and, consequently, debt rising steadily in the past decade, graduating “on time” has become a Herculean feat. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, of the 86 percent of freshman who predict they will graduate on time, only a third of them will succeed.
I am still trying to wrap my head around this discrepancy. I do not know where to start. But I believe we have to examine the producers – the institutions whom we pay 60+ thousand dollars per year – and the consumers – ourselves. Blaming one generation’s “laziness” derails from the real concern: student debt and lack of mental health resources. Taking a semester-off may solve a short-term problem, but in the same way a barista job at Starbucks will pay for a Mercedes.