SANTA MARIA, Calif. -

Just about half the students enrolled at California community colleges take more than 4 years to graduate, much longer than the traditional 2 years to earn an associates degree. These from a recent study by a non-profit organization show students may not be saving as much money as they'd like going to a community college.

The longer it takes a student to get an associates degree and ultimately a bachelor's degree, the more money they're spending on education. The economic downturn definitely played a part in the study's findings, but now community colleges are starting to see things turn around, which is good for students.

Norm Lewis is the new man on campus. After retiring out from the Air Force, he's trading in his uniform for textbooks at Allan Hancock college this fall.

"Right now the game plan is to finish up my associates degree," said Lewis. "I started it when I was in the Air Force and I want to finish it up. I'm hoping to have it done within the two years."

Lewis is among thousands of California students working to get their associates degree in two years. It doesn't always happen that soon though. A study by the non-profit Campaign for College Opportunity found that about half of the 64,000 students who earned only associate degrees in the 2012-2013 school year took longer than 4 years get that two year degree, all while incurring more expenses and lost wages. The study did not include those who earned additional certificates and degrees.
     
Allan Hancock counselor Christine Reed says the recent recession played a role, when budget cuts of nearly a $1-billion dollars crippled the California community college system and forced campuses to cut classes. With course offerings returning to normal levels, the issue now revolves around students identifying the field of study they want to get into early on.

"There's a big push on the statewide level for student service programs to have every student planned out academically and have an educational plan," said Reed.

The California Community Colleges Office responded to the study with a statement Tuesday:

"The report claims to analyze time to completion for those earning associate degrees in 2012-13, but the data sample excludes more than 16,000 associate degree earners for that year, calling into question the validity of the findings. Any valid evaluation would count – and analyze – all 80,472 associate degree earners as the successes that they are. Also, contrary to the report’s claims that it does not track students who transfer, the report examines data on some – but not all – students who transferred to 4-year institutions."