Take a survey

The question of why many NIU students take longer than the traditional four years to graduate is certainly one which deserves a definitive answer. Students, parents, faculty, the administration and the IBHE want to know and have a right to know why the average NIU student takes longer than four years to graduate. Our student leadership and The Northern Star have been quick to assert that the dominant reason must be the unavailability of required classes for students. Just as quickly, the university administration has countered that a host of “other causes” are behind the plus-four graduation times by many students. Unfortunately, both assertions are based far more on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence. Speaking as one faculty member on this campus concerned about the issue, I find it frustrating to see all the public speculation about the true causes without any hard evidence existing to confirm or disconfirm either position. The recent survey conducted by the Assessment Office appearing to support the administration position was simply too small in scope, and based on a very limited, self-selected sample to convince anyone concerned about this situation.

I would propose that two carefully controlled surveys be done to once-and-for-all determine the answer to this question. First, using the auspices of the university, all recent graduates (perhaps the last four years worth) should be asked how long it took them to graduate and if longer than four years to rank the reasons why this occurred. Second, perhaps the Star in cooperation with the Student Association could survey all juniors and seniors currently enrolled about their anticipated time for graduation and again to rank the reason why the time spent at NIU would be longer than four years. Certainly, there are many faculty on this campus, well versed in survey research, who could assist in framing the survey questions properly and helping to maximize the response rates to the surveys.

My own feeling is that the results of these surveys would show that a wide variety of reasons do exist for a plus-four graduation time. In a large, varied campus community such as NIU, these reasons probably include financial considerations, class availability at desired times and semesters, the desire to spread out required courses, changes of major, major requirements, family and commuting considerations, academic performance and other reasons. But without hard evidence, any assertions are nothing more than speculation. Why don’t we stop speculating, gather the facts, and get on with solving whatever problems we may find in this area.

Bill Cummings


Associate Professor