Many factors contribute to delayed graduations

Like many high school graduates, 24-year-old Sharifa Coffin, from Knoxville, Tenn., knew her next step would be to go to college. Upon her acceptance to the FAMU in August 1998, she had plans to make the best of her college career. Coffin planned to make good grades, meet new people and graduate with a degree in psychology.

What Coffin did not plan was to become a self-graduate. She never expected to walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony without having received a diploma.

College administrators define self-graduates as students who attend college for four years and may even participate in commencement ceremonies but who never receive their degrees.

“I had to stay back an extra semester for only two classes,” Coffin said.

“I finally got my degree this year.”

Some students face many hurdles prior to graduation.

Coffin had to re-take those classes after being ejected for non-payment.

“After I paid my fees, it turned out that I still could not receive my diploma because I did not pass the math section of the CLAST (College Level Academic Skills Test),” Coffin said.

Only 31 percent of students at state institutions and 65 percent at private institutions graduate in four years, according Phyllis Schlafly’s April 2003 column, “What College Catalogs Don’t Reveal”.

Most institutions of higher learning track “on-time” graduation rates by four- and six-year intervals.

Trelena Reed, 24, from Chicago, graduated with a master’s in business administration from the School of Business and Industry last summer.

Reed said that she refused to be a part of the self-graduate statistics. She earned her diploma – but only after overcoming obstacles.

“Although I had to stay back another semester to complete my internship, I made it my business to check with professors, advisers and Dean Sybil Mobley to make sure that was the last thing I had to complete before graduating,” Reed said.

In many cases, checking graduation requirements ahead of time ensures a definite or early graduation.

Daniel Wims, the division director of the College of Engineering Sciences Technology and Agriculture, said many students find themselves graduating later than they intend because they do not seek proper advisement and take courses out of sequence.

“In order to graduate on time, students should develop an academic plan with their adviser and stick to it,” Wims said.

In “Job Choices” magazine, a study by Marcia Harris and Sharon Jones showed that college students graduate late because of light course loads, academic difficulties and changing majors.

They also cite poor academic advising or students’ “reluctance to leave the cocoon” of the college environment as roadblocks to graduation.

Courtney Crockett, 21, a fourth-year political science student from Fort. Lauderdale, is among those who have changed (their) her major and who faces a possible late graduation.

Crockett knew that changing her major would cause her to graduate later than she intended, but she was willing to make that sacrifice.

“I still want to get out of school in four years,” Crockett said. “I don’t want to stay here forever.”

Now Crockett must take on heavier course loads and summer school courses in order to graduate in May 2005.

The “Daily Helmsman” online, a student publication at the University of Memphis, records that choosing a major involves a commitment that some students are unprepared to make.

Many students at colleges across the country change their majors three or more times between admission and graduation.

Deidre Melton, 22, a student in the SBI program, is an exception. She extended her summer internship with Pfizer Inc., a top pharmaceutical company, to a year. While it may be taking Melton longer to complete a five-year MBA program, she explained that it was more beneficial.

“I have over two years of internship experience,” Melton said. “It will make me much more marketable than the next person.”

The “Job Choices” research shows that late graduation is not always a bad thing. The research reveals that advantages to late graduation include the ability to improve grades with light class loads, the ability to take additional electives to improve marketability and extra time to gain more career-related or leadership experience.

In a survey published in “Job Choices,” about 88 percent of the nation’s college freshmen indicated that they plan to go to graduate or professional school. However, research shows that students faced with a late graduation also must cope with increased tuition and possible rejection of employers and graduate schools.

Gary Paul, chairman of history and political science, said that students should take the time to verify whether they have met all of the requirements prior to their graduating semester in order to avoid any disappointments.

“The University plays a major role in the graduation process,” said Quaraland Hudson, program assistant to the graduation department. “But it’s also the students’ responsibility to handle their business.”

Contact Martine Joeseph at