Over the past several years, college tuition has been a hot topic. Millennials are living at home following graduation because they cannot pay off their student loans and they are putting off purchases such as homes.

Through all of this discussion the main target for many has been college tuition. But, rightfully so, the University of Wisconsin as part of its strategic framework is shifting the discussion to a second problem: the amount of time it takes students to graduate.

“Time to graduate is one of the most important factors in college affordability. If students can graduate in a shorter amount of time, they pay less. It also avoids missed opportunity costs because they are out in the workforce and moving forward in their career,” said Board of Regents President Regina Millner. “We are laser focused on keeping college affordable for Wisconsin families.”

University officials also pointed out that if tuition increased $100 a semester, the increase would equal $800 over the four-year experience. Comparatively, it could cost a student approximately $5,000 more to stay an extra semester if they cannot graduate in a timely fashion. That is huge.

By pointing this out, we are not giving the University of Wisconsin a green light to skyrocket tuition. Rather, we hope that families and students will take note of this figure.

That $5,000 figure doesn’t even include the amount of wages students could make after graduating early. If you figure that in, a student could make enough to pay off a significant amount of student loans just by graduating early.

To achieve that savings, students and university officials need to work together. Students need to stay on track to graduate and the university needs to make sure that students can get into needed classes and are not put on long wait lists that put them behind.

High schools also need to be a part of this and that is included in the University of Wisconsin’s plan.

For one, universities need to work with high schools to expand college options — which in some cases can mean a student starts college with the equivalent of a semester behind their belts.

In addition, high schools have to do their part to make sure to graduate students who don’t need remedial education — which essentially could put a student behind a semester from the beginning and means a student will be paying for high school level classes while in college.

The bottom line is that students are graduating with too much college debt and if there are easy ways to avoid it, students, families and schools should do everything they can to help. The goal is to get students trained and educated and out in the workforce sooner.

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