Maybe the best way to improve college completion in America may be to just focus on how much time people take to complete college. As Stan Jones, president of complete college America, argues in an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post:

President Obama’s plan to make college more affordable is noble in intent but misses the mark in design. Data show that time, not tuition, is the enemy of college completion. Today’s college students are dramatically different from the archetype of the U.S. undergraduate: A 2009 Public Agenda study drawing on Education Department data found that less than a quarter of U.S. college students attend full time at residential schools. Most students now commute to campus, balancing jobs, school and often family.

Rather than engage in simplistic fights about runaway tuition, let’s pinpoint the best methods to reduce time on campus. College completion can be common ground on which the president and Congress focus on costs that are directly related to student learning and success. They should replace blame shifting with irrefutable facts and seek data-driven solutions that can be achieved now to help students afford their dreams while increasing graduation rates.

This echoes a piece Jones, along with Lumina Foundation for Education President Jamie Merisotis, wrote for this magazine back in 2010.

“The unemployed need to earn a degree quickly, so they can get back into the workforce,” Jones and Merisotis wrote. “But speed is not the defining quality of most higher education institutions, including community colleges. It takes the average community college student five years to complete a two-year associate’s degree, and four years to earn a one-year certificate.”

And that problem, that a degree that’s supposed to take two years really takes five, is one of the main reasons why the college dropout rate is so high. They argued that thinking seriously about the time structure needed to complete a degree might dramatically improve completion rates.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer