New Brunswick

Maritime students taking longer to complete 1st degree

Maritime students are spending more time on their first degrees and the New Brunswick Student Alliance is hoping the timely completion benefit will cater to five years rather than four.

Study doesn't break down provinces yet, but shows students are spending more time in school

The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission has found university students in the Maritimes are taking on average 4.6 years to complete their first degree. (Stephanie Brown/CBC News)

University students in the Maritimes are taking on average 4.6 years to complete their first degree, according to statistics released Tuesday by Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission.

The commission looked at the records of more than 6,700 students who enrolled in a Maritime university in 2004, right after high school, and graduated by 2012.

"The path a student takes can impact the time it takes to complete that first degree," said commission CEO Mireille Duguay in a release Tuesday.

"This information is useful for students who are starting their first degree or thinking about switching programs."

But students taking longer to complete their degrees doesn't startle Rob Burroughs, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance.

"It's the first time they've managed to put out a study for average completion rates," he said. "The notion that enough of our students aren't finishing in four years is not surprising."

Study followed students

The study followed individual students from year to year. Duguay hopes that the information collected will help future students make educated decisions before beginning a degree.

"Programs continue to be advertised for four years … Graduates say they did not complete in that time," said Duguay.

Robert Burroughs believes that the timely completion benefit should be revisited. (Kate Roy)
One of the main reasons students take longer to complete a degree is due to a change in field of study, or because a student has switched schools.

The commission found that 16 per cent of students who switched schools and field of study finished their degree in four years.

But according to the commission, only 64 per cent of graduates who didn't switch institutions or field of study finished their degree in four years.

"A lot of it is starting a degree at 17 or 18, interest changes and a person's academic experiences change," said Burroughs.

Signal change

Burrough and the NBSA believe the information should signal a change in the province's timely completion benefit.

New Brunswick's timely completion benefit offers debt reduction to those who complete their university degree in four years.

"Completion numbers within a four-year time frame are not high enough in the province to have financial aid tied to four years," said Burroughs.

"Why have a timely completion benefit for four years if we know the average is five years … To reduce student debt, why would you not add that additional year on to the timely completion."

The commission will now be able to look closely at what factors contributed to their completion time such as financial situation, course load and breaks.

"We will be taking a closer look into the students' educational pathways to gain a better understanding of what increases or decreases the average time-to-degree," said Duguay.