Derrick Lugo came into Stony Brook University as a mechanical engineering major, but in his sophomore year, he changed his major to computer science. His decision to change majors not only cost him a change in classes, but it also cost him an extra year at the university. He is currently in his fifth year.
“I hate still being here but it’s not really the school’s fault,” said Lugo, 22. “I blame it on my switch.”
The typical thought about college may be that it is the “best four years of your life,” but, according to Richard Gatteau, director of academic advising at Stony Brook University, students graduating within a six-year period is the norm.
“Six years is a reasonable time frame to finish a degree,” said Gatteau. “Even US News goes by the six-year percentage.”
According to statistics from Institutional Research at the university, 65 percent of students who started at the university in 2004 graduated in a six-year period.
The department of Institutional Research did not respond to a request for an interview about the statistics, but Gatteau said there could be many reasons that students do not graduate in four years.
“It’s less usual for students to start and go fully through,” said Gatteau. “Those numbers also don’t mean that the students necessarily dropped out, they could’ve transferred and finished their degree elsewhere.”
Compared to some other schools in the State University of New York system, Stony Brook falls in about the middle. For example, Binghamton University has an 80 percent six-year graduation rate, State University of New York at Buffalo 48 percent, and State University of New York at Albany 65 percent.
Stony Brook University’s six-year graduation rate is actually on the lower end of the Association of American Universities, which is an organization of 61 public and private universities in the United States and Canada. For example, Pennsylvania State University has a six-year graduation rate of about 85 percent.
Although the university is on the lower end of those statistics, its own rates have increased. In 1993 the six-year graduation rate was 53 percent.
“My sense is that it’s [the graduation rate] good because it is an upward trend, which is positive,” said Gatteau. “We are doing much better than in the past, but we’re still low.”
The academic advising office is working towards increasing the percentage of students who graduate in a timely manner. According to Gatteau, there is a tracking committee, behind the scenes, who keep an eye on students who are not on track. Any student who stands out as “a concern” is contacted for a follow-up.
The advising office is also working to improve upon the degree progress reports that students can access to see where they are credit wise.
“One issue related to students graduating is being able to easily self advise,” said Gatteau. “The goal is to have a full comprehensive audit for each student that includes general education requirements, major requirements, and a transfer credit listed as a one to one course equivalent.”
Lugo kept track of his credits and determined the best amount to take each semester — even if it means staying in Stony Brook longer.
“I like having some kind of life, so after taking 18-credit semesters, I switched down to 12-15 in order to help my grade point average,” said Lugo.
According to Gatteau, streamlining these reports will not only help students understand them but will be beneficial for advisers as well.
“I think it will have a huge impact,” said Gatteau. It will allow any adviser at any point to see exactly what’s missing.”
Gatteau even went as far as saying that clarifying these progress reports could affect how many spots are offered in classes.
“If you could see how many students need ‘X’ class to graduate, we can use that to plan on how many seats to put in that class,” said Gatteau.
Another option students have to guarantee they graduate within a four to six year period is to take summer or winter classes. These intersessions are shorter than regular semesters and a little more expensive. Students, like Lugo, who has taken two summer courses, pay per credit they take as opposed to one flat fee.
The academic advising office isn’t the only one available to help students. Lugo said he went to the career center when he needed help with deciding to change his major.
“The career center helped me find something that I really liked and I switched to it since I entered college as a Mechanical Engineering student,” said Lugo.
According to Gatteau, the advising office will continue to work to improve their programs to help students graduate, whether it is within four or six years.
“Obviously, we would like to see students graduate in a four-year period, but because the national standard is a six year period, that’s the number we would like to see improve,” said Gatteau.