Sending a child to college is often an expensive proposition, with costs to attend a four year college or university ranging from $18,000/year all the way up to $75,000/year*. As Florida residents we are fortunate, as we have the second lowest tuition rates in the United States, less than $6500/year including fees. However that does not mean attending college in Florida cannot be a costly endeavor. There are 12 colleges/universities in the Florida State University system, with several nationally ranked institutions, which Florida residents can attend for super low in-state tuition rates. What a bargain…right? Well let’s for a moment focus on value instead of just the cost to attend.

Each year I attend the State University System (SUS) workshop, hearing from the admissions officers from each public college or university in Florida. There Quest staff and I are given the SUS Admissions Tour Matrix which provides data on the most popular majors, undergraduate enrollment numbers, testing policies, admissions statistics as well as graduation rates. In past years, we were only provided with six-year graduation rates, however this year, we were given four-year graduation numbers. I cannot speak for the other counselors in the room, but I was stunned.

Without mentioning specific colleges, the four-year graduation rate ranged from a low of 21% at one institution to a high of 68% at another. I am sure there are a myriad of reasons for these less than impressive numbers, and I am not here to criticize specific institutions or even offer a formulaic remedy to improve these statistics. However, I am here to encourage us to provide our best and brightest students who attend these institutions with the knowledge necessary to graduate in four-years.

When a student takes longer than four years to graduate from college, it not only results in the student or parent having to incur additional costs to pay for college, but it also means the student is not working, not earning a living; an unacknowledged cost to be sure, but nevertheless a financial setback as young people begin their adult life. In working with high school students about to begin college, I find most have little to no knowledge about the inner workings of earning college credit. So what insight can we provide high school seniors so they can adeptly navigate the ins and outs of college?

Talk with students about how many credits they need to earn each semester-each year-in order to earn 120 credits to receive a four-year degree.

Talk with students about the “drop-add” period in a semester so they can manage their course load and maintain a strong GPA.

Talk with students about time management and organization, so they can be looking forward in planning their four-year coursework.

Talk with students in seeking out academic advisors at their college or university so they can receive guidance in the sequence of their course work.

We must ensure our students feel empowered to manage their college experience, guiding them on their road to becoming self-sufficient by graduating from college in four years with little to not debt. Let’s not become so focused on the race to get into college that we lose sigh of the bigger goal; to graduate from college. Because I cannot imagine there is anyone among us who wants our outstanding Collier County students to become a statistic.

*(including housing, food, tuition, fees and books)