Finish in Four: Rollins’ New Four-Year Graduation Guarantee

April 03, 2020

By Elsa Wenzel

Gabbie Buendia ’19 receives her diploma at Rollins College's commencement ceremony.
Photo by Scott Cook.

A new Rollins program guarantees students the guidance and access to courses they need to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

While many students wish college would last forever, attending a school that allows you to finish your degree on time has multiple advantages, from reducing costs to allowing you to launch your career as early as possible. Rollins recently unveiled its Finish in Four guarantee, an uncommon commitment to providing the support students need to finish a bachelor’s degree in four years.

The initiative, launching for first-year students entering the College of Liberal Arts in fall 2020, provides a concrete plan for each student to complete a degree in four years. If a student holds up their end of the bargain and has to take classes beyond the eighth semester, Rollins will pick up the tab.

“The Finish in Four commitment demonstrates the close nature and one-on-one relationships that students have with their professors and advisors,” says Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Faye Tydlaska, who has spearheaded the Finish in Four program. “Guided mentorship is a hallmark of a Rollins education. This is putting the promise into concrete terms for students to see.”

In 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked Rollins among the schools with the nation’s highest four-year graduation rates. Our intimate and personalized learning environment not only allows us to equip every incoming first-year student with a roadmap to complete a degree in four years, but it also allows us to provide individualized advising from orientation through graduation to help students stay on track throughout their journey.

One-on-one student-faculty advising session.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Enhancing Value

According to the Department of Education, most college degrees in the United States now take five years or longer to achieve. Graduating in four years is a guaranteed way to reduce the cost of an undergraduate degree, and thanks to Finish in Four, qualified Rollins students don’t have to cover tuition costs beyond the fourth year. Finish in Four also allows Rollins students to begin earning an income earlier by graduating on time and entering the workforce.

“The total cost of an education is more than looking at your financial aid, but also how many semesters you’re going to spend,” says Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Susan Singer.

Singer likens the experience of choosing a college to reviewing the options to buy a car or an airline ticket—what appears to be a lower price may hide fine print and extra fees. If a school can’t guarantee that students can access the necessary courses at the right times, for example, it causes unanticipated delays.

At Rollins, support toward a timely graduation starts the very first semester when each student is assigned a faculty advisor, the instructor in their mandatory Rollins College Conference (RCC) course. These interactive seminar courses cover a broad range of topics and immediately expose students to active learning, small classes, participation and debate, and critical thinking—defining characteristics of the Rollins experience. First-year students meet with their RCC advisors three times a week, which quickly fosters meaningful connections.

“We bend over backwards, move heaven and earth, to help our students who want to graduate on time to graduate on time,” says Gabriel Barreneche, associate dean of advising. “That takes the shape of faculty doing independent study or being flexible with certain major requirements and connecting students with the right resources if they’ve fallen behind.”

Once a student declares a major, they identify a new faculty advisor in that discipline. Advisors are engaged in ongoing professional education, regular meetings, and other opportunities to stay abreast of trends in higher education and help the students stay on track through meaningful one-on-one conversations. When coaching students during their regular meetings, faculty advisors, for example, can make it clear that although 12 credits per semester qualifies for federal aid, it’s not enough to make hard progress toward a degree.

“I had dedicated advisors throughout my time at Rollins who consistently checked in on my progress and made sure I was taking a mixture of full- and partial-term classes, as well as winter intersession classes, to meet my graduation goal,” says Tamer Elkhouly ’19, who landed a position as a contracts specialist at Raytheon six months before graduation.

Vice president of student affairs greeting students.
Photo by Scott Cook.

But What If?

To fulfill the Finish in Four requirements, students must earn 32 credits the first year and 36 each subsequent year; keep a minimum 2.25 GPA; and maintain good academic, honor code, and conduct standing. They must also regularly meet with their advisors, apply to graduate on time, and accept any available section of a required course.

Finish in Four does not guarantee the completion of a minor or multiple majors nor are students enrolled in a 3/2 program or athletes who compete beyond the fourth year eligible.

Although Finish in Four launches formally with the Class of 2024, it highlights well-established support systems that contribute to the majority of students already finishing within four years.

“The rapid pace of industry disruption due to technology requires an agile mindset that can only be sharpened in the workforce,” says international relations alum Lucas Hernandez ’13, who now serves as Microsoft’s director of civic engagement in Miami. “Graduating in four years allowed me to maximize my opportunities to achieve a rewarding career.”

In building its Finish in Four commitment, Rollins considered unlikely worst-case scenarios, such as how to help a theoretical student without any calculus coursework who waits until their second year to declare a physics major.

“We are nimble and small enough to address those outliers and still would likely be able to get a student through in four years even with unexpected detours on the roadmap,” says Barreneche.

In the rare case that a student can’t find a required course by the start of their eighth semester, Rollins provides several options on a case-by-case basis. This may include enrollment in an independent study or tutorial, or allowing a course substitution or waiver for a missing requirement.

If those options are unavailable, Rollins will back its Finish in Four promise by footing the bill for the additional time a student spends to complete the degree. Students will have one academic year to finish under this scenario and will still need to apply for financial aid with a FAFSA form.

A Rollins professor leads a discussion in an outdoor classroom.

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