Four-Year Degree Still Lives -- in Virginia

Steven Kent
four year degree
four year degree

"You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years," declares Tommy, the hapless perpetual undergraduate, upon the completion of his hard-fought bachelor's degree.

"I know," replies his snarky friend. "They're called doctors."

That exchange, from the Chris Farley comedy Tommy Boy, served the purpose of establishing the main character as a major slacker and all-around screwup. Tommy Boy, however, came out in 1995; fast forward 16 years, and suddenly Tommy seems more like a parody of the average American college student.

For college students today, the four-year degree is largely turning into a myth -- the provenance of stellar overachievers and Advanced Placement all-stars rather than a realistic goal for the average student. On average, public and private schools are graduating just 37 percent of college students within four years, according to the most recent data from the American Enterprise Institute.