Grad students failing to graduate on time

Financial issues, workloads and personal affairs delay graduation.

Grad students failing to graduate on time

Danielle Nordine

Many University of Minnesota graduate students, especially those pursuing their doctorates, are struggling to complete their degrees on time, if at all. Since the 2002-03 academic year, 45 percent of doctoral students have graduated within six years, compared to 75 percent of masterâÄôs students. Sixty-six percent of undergraduate students who started school in the same year have graduated within six years. Dean of Graduate Education Henning Schroeder said that while the UniversityâÄôs rates are more or less in line with national averages, time to graduation is still an issue that needs to be addressed. âÄúEven if you are extremely productive in your research, youâÄôre ultimately still a graduate student,âÄù Schroeder said. âÄúIn the end, in order to advance, you need to get that degree and move on.âÄù The expected time to graduation can vary considerably depending on the studentâÄôs department, but the expected amount of time needed to complete a masterâÄôs degree is about two to three years; for a doctorate degree, the time frame is three to five years, Council of Graduate Students President Mandy Stahre said. The time for program completion can also depend on the studentsâÄô goals after graduation. In the math and science fields, students often finish sooner because many go on to do postdoctoral research before securing a permanent job, which requires a completed degree, Schroeder said. In the arts and humanities, however, many students move directly from a doctorate program to faculty positions, which require more experience in the academic world and may lead to more time in school, he said. In all departments and among both masterâÄôs and doctoral students, the three biggest roadblocks to degree completion were financial issues, obstacles with research or dissertations and personal or family obligations, according to a Council of Graduate Students survey conducted in 2008. Many graduate students work as teaching or research assistants to earn money and gain experience in the field, which can also contribute to a delayed graduation, Joe Haker, a history graduate student said. âÄúIf you want to make it in academia, you have to teach, so being provided with the opportunity to do so is great,âÄù said Haker, who is a teaching assistant. âÄúBut it takes away a lot of time for developing your own scholarship, preparing your dissertation or even completing your own coursework.âÄù Advising is also an important part of graduate study that can contribute greatly to time of graduation, Stahre said. The graduate school restructuring plans place a heavy focus on improving advising, but it remains to be seen if the changes will help, Stahre said. In order to improve, both faculty and students need to change how they view advising and use it to its greatest advantage, Schroeder said. Personal and family obligations are the biggest difference between graduate and undergraduate student challenges to graduation, Stahre said. âÄúAs you stay in school longer, you tend to start having more life commitments getting in your way,âÄù she said. âÄúMost undergrads can focus mainly on school, but graduate students start to have other life commitments that can really impede progress.âÄù Haker said that while he is on track for graduating on time, many students struggle with balancing life and school responsibilities. âÄúI would attribute [being on track] to a little bit of luck and a lot of being overworked and sacrificing a lot of my personal life to get everything done,âÄù he said. âÄúGraduating on time does involve basically devoting your entire life to coursework and preparing your dissertation.âÄù