“Four-year guarantee” gaining popularity among colleges

Each fall, an increasing number of college students across the nation are becoming eligible for what is being called a "four-year guarantee."

According to a recent New York Times report, such guarantees promise incoming freshmen that they will be able to graduate within four years, provided they maintain good academic standing. If students are not able to complete their degrees within that time through some fault of the institution, the school will compensate students for any extra tuition.

In general, students seem to have shown support for the system.

"When a student applies to a school and is accepted by the college, they both enter into a contract," said junior Kristin Laird. "If the student holds up their end, and the college is the one that failed to abide by the terms, then it seems like it's the school's responsibility to fix it and uphold the contract."

"This is a great way to ensure the college's accountability and commitment to its students," said junior Hillary Rich.   

Four-year guarantees are far more common at private institutions, but have been adopted at a handful of public colleges. At this point, there are no plans to introduce a four-year guarantee at Geneseo.

"It's not anything that we have talked about as an institution, nor is it something that we've heard about from SUNY," Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Carol Long said.

Long said that although Geneseo currently has one of the highest four-year graduation rates in the State University of New York system, it does not yet compete with its aspirant peers in terms of this statistic. She cited financial and health situations, changing majors and transferring as primary reasons that some students are unable to graduate within four years.

Long said that while four-year guarantees may be a good option for private universities and certain academic programs with set paths, they aren't necessarily appropriate for a liberal arts education.

"We have a lot of students who come in undeclared … which a liberal arts college should have," she said. "Liberal arts is really a conversation between students, parents, faculty and administration exploring different options, and I think sometimes students don't finish in four years for good reasons."

Most four-year guarantees implemented by colleges carry a set of conditions regarding the circumstances under which a student is unable to graduate. James B. Milroy, vice president for administration and finance, said that these caveats diminish the actual effect of these guarantees.

"It is my opinion that the vast majority of those not graduating within four years are choosing to stay and are not being prevented from graduating due to some failing on the part of the college," he said. "The program is more of a marketing tool than a serious commitment on the part of the institutions that have adopted it."

Long emphasized that not having a four-year guarantee does not mean that Geneseo isn't devoted to providing students with the best possible advisement and course availability.

"There are always things we can keep doing to work on our advising system, but I think the four-year guarantee is too oversimplified of a solution to a complex issue," she said.