A year ago, 21-year-old Lexi Prahl still had a plan.
She even had a way to pay for it.
“When I was little, my mom worked in the Navy,” Prahl said. “She passed away when I was young. Ever since then I’ve been getting money from the government that my dad has been saving to pay for college.”
After taking classes through the IU Air Force ROTC program starting her sophomore year, she planned on attending basic training and eventually earning an officer position in the U.S. military, just like her mom.
But when the Air Force informed her she was medically postponed and could not complete training, the Washington, D.C., native made a decision: stay an extra year in college to complete a degree and continue her dream, even as her savings passed down through her mother ran out.
“It was a huge blow to realize that my life plan couldn’t be possible, but instead of being really sad about it, I knew I had to do something so I didn’t fall behind,” Prahl said.
Approaching her senior year, she decided to pursue a management degree through the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, along with a minor in international studies. In order to complete her degree, she will be attending IU for a fifth year.
Though the most updated statistics report a 58-percent on-time graduation rate for the IU-Bloomington campus for students seeking a four-year degree, IU administration is putting on-time graduation as a top priority.
“We’ve got a responsibility to help provide students with the tools to graduate,” said Mark Land, vice president of IU communications. “If you stay another year, not only are you paying tuition, you’re paying for books, room and board and possibly adding debt.”
IU President Michael McRobbie addressed on-time graduation rates in a recent University-wide email, stating “IU is committed to providing tools and incentives to our students that will help them earn their degree in four years or less and lower the cost of attending IU, and thereby reducing their overall debt load.”
As McRobbie’s recommendation for tuition rates to the Board of Trustees approaches, the president highlighted initiatives implemented by the University to not only increase on-time graduation rates but also improve student financial literacy.
First mentioned in the State of the Campus Address, McRobbie cited the new “Finish in Four” program to be implemented this fall.
Through the program, juniors and seniors from all seven IU campuses will receive a financial award that offsets any increase in tuition that occurred during their last two years at IU.
Because the program is still in its infancy, rising juniors with at least 60 completed credit hours and rising seniors with at least 90 hours will qualify for the award.
“I wouldn’t have minded staying another year when I was here, but it can really be a burden financially on students,” said Land, an IU-Bloomington graduate. “We’re not a for-profit business. We don’t have interest in generating fees just to generate fees.”
In order to catch up on credit hours, Prahl utilized the University’s new summer session tuition discount.
“I felt like I needed to be productive, and since they were discounted, it was really helpful,” Prahl said. “It made sense to stay here and take the cheaper classes.”
Since Prahl changed paths so late in her college career, she said she does not blame unnecessary credit requirements as a reason for her extra year in school.
However, following demands from recently passed Indiana House Enrolled Act 1220, the University reduced credit requirements for all but a few baccalaureate and associate degrees.
More than 90 percent of all bachelor’s degree programs at IU will meet the 120-credit requirement recommended by the state by next year.
“This was no small undertaking,” Land said. “We have over 400 degree programs that we had to review and reduce in very quick order. The state legislature is really pushing Universities to push students through in four years as a way to control their costs.”
By using the last of the savings collected from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, along with liquidated stock earnings Prahl’s mom purchased before her death, she said she will still be able to pay out-of-state tuition.
Despite incentives to graduate in four years and avoid student debt, she said that in the end, the most important thing is making it to the finish.
“It can be hard,” Prahl said. “You have to make sacrifices, but I believe the most important thing is to finish college and get your degree. Any way you can do that, you should do it.”