Gatepost Editorial: More than the diploma

On graduation day, FSU students don their caps and gowns and proudly walk across the stage to shake the president’s hand and receive their diplomas. Years of slaving over text books, writing papers, working on projects and sitting through lectures have led to this moment – the moment they officially earn their degrees.

Graduates take these pieces of paper home and keep them as representations of all of the hard work they’ve completed which will hopefully earn them get a good job. But in reality, students have gained much more than diplomas in the time between freshman orientation and walking the stage.

Framingham State University’s most recent Common Data Set shows that 51 percent of the class that enrolled in 2007 has graduated from FSU. One third of those FSU students who graduated did so after more than four years.

A university’s success is based not only on retention rates, but on how quickly students complete their programs and graduate. Universities are constantly trying to improve these percentages in order to impress prospective students and their families.

Although 1/3 of FSU students who graduated did so in more than four years, many are not unhappy about spending extra time here. Some have needed to take time off from school in order to gain clarity about what they plan to do with their lives. Others have taken an extra semester or two to finish a minor in a field that they only recently realized they are passionate about. Many students change their major in the course of their college career.

Spending extra time at school, only a few months in some cases, could alter what jobs these students apply for and what they devote their lives to.

Throughout their college career, students have learned about themselves and what they’re passionate about, gained invaluable experience through extracurricular activities and taken internships to hone their skills. Students’ personal development throughout the years in which they attend college is essential to who they become and what they achieve long after they leave this campus.

And while many students want to graduate on time in order to save money or because of the pressure they feel from their families or friends, college is an investment, and putting a little more into that investment in order to find the trajectory that will allow them to live a life they are passionate about is well worth it.

FSU investing in student success doesn’t necessarily mean investing in programs that will make the school’s statistics look more impressive. It means offering advising support and adequate courses to ensure that students who are on track to graduate on time are able to – but also acknowledge the benefits some students gain from taking some extra time before getting their diploma.

Encouraging students to take this extra time, if they need it and choose it, creates more successful alumni in the long run, which is an investment for the school as much as it is for the students themselves.

While statistics are a measurable way to assess student success, sometimes the most valuable lessons are the ones that aren’t measurable, and don’t show up on paper. As important as that most cherished piece of paper – the diploma – may be, it cannot reflect the true value of a college life well lived.

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