February 3, 2011

In Support of Graduating Early From Someone Who Didn’t

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Walking down College Ave, someone dressed in all black offers you $11,655 cash. Somewhat skeptical, you immediately ask the conditions, trying to ensure that the proposition is actually legal. To such inquiry, the disguised individual responds that you must make two guarantees in exchange for the money: 1) For the next four months, you accept that you will have at least 20 extra hours of free time per week, and 2) You must promise not to do any textbook reading or homework for the same four month period.

This past Tuesday, an article in The Sun detailed the recent rise in early graduation rates at Cornell. Specifically, the article stated that “The proportion of Cornell students who graduate early has increased from three percent of students in the incoming class of 1980 to 10 percent of the incoming class in 2002.” By using an overly dramatic hypothetical situation, I tried to show how painstakingly obvious the motivation is for a student to graduate a semester early.

The most obvious advantage of graduating early is the financial benefit. In many regards, a college is like a business. As students, we pay a premium for both services (instruction) and a product (a degree). Per semester, tuition costs equal $11,655 for endowed colleges and $19,725 for contract colleges. In the real world, customers are encouraged to seek a better and cheaper product. Likewise, an employee is never chastised for quickly and efficiently completing a project before its deadline. As paying customers at Cornell, we have a right to pursue a degree in the most cost efficient manner possible, and the enormous potential savings are surely reason enough to consider graduating early.

In all fairness, there are factors that distinguish a college from an ordinary business, and not all learning takes place in the classroom (otherwise we would all be taking classes online). Many of the extra-curricular activities and social interactions of the college experience are unparalleled in the real world. Someone who goes away to college develops and matures in ways someone who commutes does not. However, graduating early does not diminish this experience, and in many ways can enhance it. As was alluded to in the article published on Tuesday, the time and money saved from graduating a semester early opens numerous opportunities for students to explore. Students may chose to spend time traveling, pursuing a hobby or simply hanging around Ithaca with friends. College may very well be a last chance to attend structured classes and engage in higher education. In many cases, however, it is equally true that this is a final opportunity to pursue a personal interest or soak in free time before entering the real world.

Trying to consider possible disadvantages to graduating early, few compelling arguments come to mind. There are indeed plenty of interesting courses here at Cornell. If you really are a fiend for education, and you have a few extra thousand dollars to spend per class, by all means enroll. For the majority of students, however, many of whom regularly browse Facebook during class, I doubt this is the case. Graduating early does not require departing Ithaca. Graduating early does not sever your ties to the Cornell community. There’s always the option to spend four months around campus, soaking in all that Ithaca has to offer.

Understandably, examining this issue from the perspective of the University raises different concerns. Like a business, the University seeks to increase revenue, and students who choose to graduate early decrease Cornell’s tuition stream. How will the University solve this conundrum? To be honest, it’s not my problem. When tuition increases every year at a greater rate than inflation, I don’t see much sympathy coming from the administration on behalf of students. When the endowment shrinks and budgets are cut, it is largely the students who foot the bill. Controlling the finances and balancing the budget for a university is no effortless task, but it is someone’s job to do just that. There are creative solutions to these financial obstacles, and admitting more transfer students as more Cornell students chose to graduate early (which was mentioned in Tuesday’s article) seems like a beneficial and ideal example.

As I hope many of you will realize, there are plenty of enticing reasons to consider graduating early. Realistically, this may or may not be possible depending on your major, campus obligations and number of A.P. credits accumulated during high school. Nevertheless, the idea is well worth a discussion with your academic advisor. Entering this semester, I had received 119 credits, leaving me 1 shy of the necessary 120 to graduate from ILR. Last year I contemplated graduating early, but chose not to in order to complete a senior honors thesis and graduate with honors. I can’t say that I am completely convinced I made the right choice, but at least I gave it some thought.

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at swerbelow@cornellsun.com. Second Opinion appears alternate Fridaysz this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow