‘Super seniors’ clog colleges

San Jose State is pushing “super seniors” — credit-rich students who’ve taken classes for more than six years — to finish a degree and go away, making room for new students. About 1,500 students have been seniors for three or more years; 35 have been enrolled for a decade or more.  “Two particularly scholarly souls have studied for 15 years, each earning about 360 units toward a bachelor’s degree — enough to have graduated three times over,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

For the first time in its history, this spring SJSU turned away 4,400 qualified students from its incoming freshman class because it could not afford to properly educate all qualified students who applied. Meanwhile, the number of seniors keeps climbing from 8,333 in 2005 to 9,757 in 2009.

Students who have 20 percent more units than are required for graduation — 300 seniors fall in that category — will be advised to finish quickly, though there are no consequences for those who choose to stay on.

“With the economy in shambles, I figure it is better to stay in school,” said Zachary Pallin, 22, a fifth-year senior who will graduate in 2010 — after six years at SJSU. First an English major, then a philosophy major, he has since settled on political science, with a minor in environmental science. He hopes to find work in the government or with a nonprofit organization. “I can focus on learning, while the economy gets better. Then I can actually get a job.”

Other heavily subsidized state universities have similar problems: Some students are postponing paying back loans that come due when they leave school. Others have fallen victim to poor advising, changed their major several times or just come to love the life of the professional student.

Cal State-East Bay now cuts off aid for super-seniors after two extra years.  Cal State-Fullerton offers better advising and priority registration to students who pledge to “Finish In Four.”

In North Carolina, students with more than 140 credits pay a tuition surcharge.

The University of Georgia is considering the ultimate insult: revoking long-term seniors’ perks such as priority parking and sports seating — sending them back to lowly freshman status.

Too many students are dithering on the taxpayers’ dime. A tuition surcharge for extra units and back-of-the-line status to get into classes would motivate students to get serious before they become sixth- or seventh-year seniors.


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Comments

  1. When I enrolled in my master’s degree program, I was given five years from the beginning to complete the degree, including thesis and defense. The reason it was five was because I was a part-time student while teaching high school full time.

    I had to complete the degree in the time period or no degree would be awarded. Obviously, exceptions are made for extenuating circumstances. Yet, there is no reason students can’t complete a degree in four years. However, colleges usually condone this behavior if the student is willing to keep paying.

    It seems a bit odd to start complaining after taking a students money for ten years or more.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    A tuition surcharge for extra units and back-of-the-line status to get into classes would motivate students to get serious before they become sixth- or seventh-year seniors.

    Or we could just start charging out-of-state tuition after some number of units (200?). I suspect that this would do the trick.

    -Mark Roulo

  3. CharterMom says:

    Reminds me of one of the most memorable bumper stickers I have ever seen. It said “The Truly Educated Never Graduate” and the guy who got out of the car definitely had that professional student look to him. I remember thinking — so high school drop-outs are the truly educated?

  4. Jay dean says:

    There is at least one reason why a student might not be able to complete a degree in four years. Some schools are so loaded with students that bottlenecks can form around key courses required to complete majors.

    Perhaps this could be avoided if incoming freshmen were forced to create a list of all classes they will be taking over the four years, and some computer would reconcile all of those thousands of schedules. However, in the real world, even the most meticulously planned schedule of classes may not result in a degree in four years.

  5. Jay is right–there are occasions when the state schools virtually force kids to take a ninth semester–though my anecdotal experience is that usually occurs when a student has changed majors a time or two.

    So I can see giving some leeway–but after that, full tuition and see-ya. I always think this way–there’s some guy driving a truck or tarring a roof whose state taxes are going to defray the cost of the student’s college education– the least state-school students can do is be more appreciative of what they are being given.

    I think though that for many reasons, graduates of private universities look upon their alma maters with more gratitude.

  6. I read the story in the Merc with some interest, as my daughter is considering transferring to SJSU.

    But the article raised more questions than it answered.

    I wondered about the “super seniors” at nearby Cal States (East Bay, Monterey, San Francisco) — are they smaller, larger, or the same?

    How about the numbers at less urban campuses (Humboldt, Channel Islands) — more or less?

    I wonder about the UC numbers, too — same or different?

    Tony, you wrote, I always think this way–there’s some guy driving a truck or tarring a roof whose state taxes are going to defray the cost of the student’s college education– the least state-school students can do is be more appreciative of what they are being given.

    Most of the Cal State (San Francisco and East Bay) students I knew in the 1990s were working 10-30 hours a week, to make rent etc., and were going to school part-time. They weren’t spoiled little brats feeding at the trough–they were working, paying taxes, and paying their tuition with their own, after-tax dollars.

    Several I knew then were in a catch-22. They needed one (or a sequence of classes) to finish, but couldn’t get into one of the required courses. So had to take “placeholder” classes to stave off the student-loan repayments while they waited for the required classes to be available.

    I’m not entirely clear on the details, but I think you couldn’t get on and off the loan-repayment bus dependent upon your student status.

  7. I’ve also had friends complain that their children were being lumped in with the “super seniors” because they’d entered with an abundance of dual enrollment or Advanced Placement credits and thus may have started as “juniors” in terms of # of credits – never mind that those credits didn’t necessarily count toward their chosen program of study. I don’t have any particular issue with the idea of easing students on their way, as long as common sense prevails.

  8. Marshall says:

    Have any of the students (or the author of the article) ever read Roger Zelazny’s
    “Doorways in the Sand”?


    He looked up at me then and smiled.
    “This semester, Mister Cassidy, we are going to graduate you”, he said.
    I smiled back at him.
    “That, Mister Wexworth, will be a cold day in hell,” I said.

  9. Guilty – I have 153 credits and am still 4 classes away from a Bachelors.

    Of course, 30 or so credits are from military training… and I had to change schools three or four times due to military moves.

    Almost there…

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m a CSU, Northridge grad. I was a “super senior,” as were most of my friends, and it was completely beyond our control. Courses required for graduation were not offered often enough to complete a degree in four years, and getting into required classes on the overcrowded campus was sometimes impossible. However, students are required to take 12 credits or lose full-time standing, so you have to take a lot of “junk” courses while you’re waiting for what you actually need.

    Perhaps it’s the system itself that needs to be looked at, not just the students who are trying to get through it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A postscript to the comment I just left: Rory makes a good point. General Ed requirements are completely different from university system to system, and from state to state. This can cause a student to have to start general ed all over again after having completed it somewhere else, if life necessitates a move. In today’s mobile societies, at least our public universities should look at standardizing general ed requirements across the country.

  12. I loved being an undergrad and finished with 187 credits for a 135-credit degree. As a grad student, I did 36 of 36 in two years.

    Why the difference? I had a plan. It was easier to follow one graduated school course of study rather than that university’s particular college’s plan, plus the general ed requirement plan, plus the major’s plan, plus the minor’s plan, plus the new major’s plan, plus the courses of study that nearly got entirely cancelled, and then work as much as possible, then get married, adopt a child, quit school, have a child, then go back to school, and find a catch-all major called interdisciplinary studies (really it’s a triple minor that somehow blends together.) I had a plan at the end of my undergraduate experience, and it was to go to grad school. Then I got accepted, went, and even found a job in my field within three months. The professional salary took three more years, but I’m doing okay now and have few regrets that I have some student loans since I can easily afford the payments.

  13. Hmmm, I did two bachelor’s degrees sequententially – engineering and economics – and now use both in my work. In doing so I was in a minority at my NZ university but not a very small minority, indeed quite a few departments including the economics one ran formal systems allowing cross-credits to get a second bachelors degree more quickly. How does acquiring that sort of breath of knowledge fit in with San Jose State’s plans?

  14. There is a move in Texas to require “super seniors” to pay out-of-state tuition. We are also running out of room for incoming freshman.

  15. Sigivald says:

    I hope Mr. Pallin enjoys lifelong debt, because he’s going to have a hard time paying off those student loans with an NGO or Government job based on a Bachelor’s in Poli Sci.

    As to long-term seniors, there’s another sort that’s far less harmful (ie, not at all) – those taking a light load.

    They might take five or six years to graduate, at 12 credits a term, but they’re not “clogging” the system… since they’re taking the minimum load for full-time. They’re not graduating with many more credits than they need – just taking longer to get them.

  16. at least our public universities should look at standardizing general ed requirements across the country.

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    It is criminal how many gen ed students are forced to take. At SJSU, they have to take 17 (!). At UC Davis, only 6 – and those are quarter classes. Students waste so much time on fluff and never take the really hard classes they need their first two years to have sucessful performance in their upper division core. It is so sad.

    Doesn’t help that 70% of our students come remedial in either math or english. I think that should be stopped – those not ready for college work should go straight to community college – do not pass go, do not pay higher tuition.

    Frankly, I thought this article was poorly written because it did little to describe the host of problems students face in trying to graduate on time. It’s not their fault that the system is so complicated – but students pay the price.

  17. Cardinal Fang says:

    Ivory:
    Doesn’t help that 70% of our students come remedial in either math or english. I think that should be stopped – those not ready for college work should go straight to community college – do not pass go, do not pay higher tuition.

    How would that work, though? Would one just look at SAT scores at admission time and judge whether the student needed remedial work?
    Probably SAT scores are equally as good as whatever placement test San Jose State uses. Would the rule be- any SAT score below (let’s say) 500, and the student is off to community college?