Taking the fourth-year option

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Are you facing the reality of having to stick around college for an extra year? Rest assured — at some schools, you won’t have to pay for it.

It’s called the four-year degree guarantee, and it could be your golden ticket if graduating on time isn’t realistic for you. The concept is becoming increasingly popular as a marketing tool at private colleges. At a time when students are graduating with an average of $8,337 to $12,701 in debt, the four-year degree guarantee is an attractive feature to parents and students alike.

Here’s how it works: Once the agreement is signed by the incoming freshman, the school accepts responsibility for the financial burden of the additional years it might take the student to complete the degree. If classes needed to graduate are unavailable or the student gets poor advice from advisers, the school agrees to pick up the tab.  

However, students have to hold up their end up the deal, too. They must stay on top of their academics and prove that they have met regularly with their advisers. So if that super-senior status is a result of skipping too many classes or deciding to change your major halfway through your junior year, you’re probably on the hook for your own tuition.

“College is one of the most significant investments a family will make,” said Janet Stocks, associate academic dean for Baldwin-Wallace. “An incoming freshman probably doesn’t anticipate having to stay more than four years at a university. But it happens quite frequently to the dismay of both the student and his [or] her parents.”

Baldwin-Wallace College outside Cleveland, Ohio, is one of about 15 colleges that offer the guarantee, according to the New York Times.

Would the four-year degree guarantee be incentive enough for you to attend a particular college?

Follow Cassandra Garrison on Twitter @CassieatMetro.



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