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Friday, November 20, 2009 - 1:04pm

Students Stretch Out College

Students in Georgia are taking an average of about six years to get a bachelor's degree, instead of the traditional four, according to both the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and educational experts.

The number is similar to a national trend, and could be due in part to an increase in older students who need more time because of family and job responsibilities, and minorities who are the first generation in their families to attend college, according to Alan Richard, a spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board. The board studies education policy in southern states.

But a big reason, he says, could be the rising cost of higher education. Students could be prolonging their schooling to spread out tuition costs.

The Regents earlier this year adopted a measure that gives students a break on their tuition if they take a full-time course load of 15 hours or more at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, and even more hours at other state universities. But they have also eliminated a program that guaranteed four-year fixed tuition rates for students. And, they've increased student fees.

"You're going to face increases as other students do," says Richard. "That's probably not going to make it easier for people to finish as quickly as they need to."

However, John Millsaps, a spokesman for the Board of Regents, says prolonging education means a degree ends up costing a student more money in the long run, since student fees, rooming, board and other expenses are paid throughout additional semesters. It also costs the universities more money, he says.