Graduating early on the rise at Emerson

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2012

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According to Vice President of Enrollment MJ Knoll-Finn, early graduation rates have slightly increased at Emerson.
According to Vice President of Enrollment MJ Knoll-Finn, early graduation rates have slightly increased at Emerson.

For Anita Kalaitzakis, the desire to become a foreign correspondent developed in her introductory journalism classes at Emerson, around the same time she realized that graduating a full year early from the college was a viable option. 

“Having two parents from two different European countries and living in East Africa, my news diet was so much more diverse,” the Tanzania native said. “From that, I really wanted to fill that niche in European countries and find a way to make issues, countries, and topics that people don’t know about – relatable and relevant to them.”

Kalaitzakis, a journalism major who started at Emerson in fall 2010, plans to continue her studies in Europe after receiving her degree from Emerson when she is slated to graduate in 2013. 

She is one of an increasing number of students shortening their four-year college careers and graduating by a semester or a year early, according to MJ Knoll-Finn, the vice president of enrollment.

From fall 2002 to fall 2007 — the only complete data released so far — the number of students graduating a semester early increased by seven percent, Knoll-Finn said. Since fall 2002, three percent more students received their degrees a year ahead.

The numbers, Knoll-Finn said, are reflective of Emerson’s high overall graduation rate. 

“Emerson as a stand-alone is a huge success for students to come in, stay, and leave in a 3.5 to four year time,” she said.

While reasons for a student to graduate early vary, Knoll-Finn said some common factors might be the growing cost of a college education or the drive of students to enter the workforce. 

“The culture at Emerson is very career-oriented; there is a much stronger work drive here,” she said. “But the other [reason for graduating early], I would say, is for some students financial. If you can graduate in that last semester, that plays a factor in your decision financially.” 

For Stephanie Miceli, the decision to graduate a year early came accidentally. The senior, who entered Emerson in fall 2009, said when she realized she had earned enough college course credit during high school to immediately begin classes in her marketing communication major as a freshman, she saw early graduation as a way to enter her desired career field quicker. 

“I’ve had a really good experience here. I’ve learned so much from the professors here. But at same time, my favorite part of the week is going to my internships,” said Miceli. “I learn more from them than I might from my classes. Being at an internship is so much of a different culture.”

Miceli, who interns in the public affairs department of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and at Big Fish Communications, a public relations agency specializing in clean technology, said she sees how finances, especially during a recession, can play a role in the decision to graduate early. 

“A huge concern for our generation is money. We all came of age in the recession,” said Miceli. “Some of us saw older siblings or older cousins just getting out of college and struggling to find jobs. When you graduate early, not only are you not having to go to school, but you’re also not having to pay. And you are earning money a year earlier.”

Boston University has also seen a stable, yet slight increase in early graduation rates, according to Colin Riley, spokesperson for the college. 

Riley said approximately eight percent of the university’s undergraduates finish their degree a semester or more early. 

“I can’t tie the reason to any single thing,” Riley said in a phone interview with the Beacon. “It really comes down to the individual student’s situation.”

Knoll-Finn suggested another factor of the increased rates lies in the amount of students entering college that have taken advanced placement (AP) level classes in high school. 

Because more students are receiving college credit in high school, she said the entering freshman class has academically become stronger. The College Board, an association that oversees college entrance standardized tests, has partnered with high schools to push AP credits as a way to strengthen education, Knoll-Finn said.

Kalaitzakis said she had 24 credits from college-level courses she took at a private international school in Tanzania. While her circumstances and reasons for graduating early might be different from others, the extra year can be very beneficial, she said.

“It’s something that a lot of people will find uses for. The mentality here is that the sooner you get an internship, the sooner you are out making money, the more success you will have at a faster rate. At same time, I do see why people do take the four years, it’s a good way to network and get to know professors.”