UMW has a strict policy in place that prevents students who haven’t completely finished the required 120 credits within four years from walking across the graduation stage with their class. This includes those students who are merely one to two classes shy of attaining their degree. Unfortunately, I discovered this late into my senior year and had little time to make a successful appeal—though I tried.
Many schools are more lenient than Mary Washington when it comes to participating in the commencement ceremony. At George Mason University, students can participate in the spring ceremony so long as they are able to finish their degree requirements during the following summer. The same goes for Virginia Tech and James Madison University. William and Mary students are able to walk in the commencement ceremony closest to their graduation date. As for Virginia Commonwealth University, having six or fewer outstanding credits qualifies you to wear that robe and walk that stage. But Mary Washington makes it clear: if you are one credit short, better luck next year.
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to graduate on the four-year plan. In fact, five to six years seems to be the new norm. In November of 2010, Newsweek.com posted an article that cited statistics from a 2008 study by the American Enterprise Institute. Many may be surprised to discover that, on average, only 37 percent of full-time students in American public and private colleges graduate in less than four years. This is a 3 percent drop from the 1990s and a 10 percent drop from the 1960s. In fact, when colleges report their graduation rates, they tend to rank their students on a six-year benchmark because it is simply more realistic.
In the About UMW main page of the UMW website, our school boasts a graduation rate of 76 percent in six years. In the Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness, under General Statistics and Information, graduation rates from 1997-2003 are also shown in a six-year time line. Sure, late graduation rates can be attributed to poor course planning, changing one’s major, dropping courses and transferring schools, but the upwards trend since the 1960s has many speculating about the rising obstacles facing degree-seeking college students today.
For those of us who are a few credits short, our only options are to attend next year’s ceremony or skip the commencement ceremony altogether. It seems silly to return next spring with cap and gown in hand, once I’ve already settled a job and moved to a new city. Besides, celebrating with a class that is not my own seems to defeat the point. But there will continue to be students who find themselves in my predicament, who miss out on the chance to celebrate their accomplishments with their friends and family the way they thought they could. Maybe one of these students will learn of this policy at an earlier point in their four years than I did. Maybe this student will step up, start a petition and appeal the policy on behalf of the rest of us. One can only hope.
Valerie Bradley is a Senior.