... that the cynical part of me believes has at least been fostered by administrations seeking more tuition dollars. I have been on curriculum planning committees and was rather surprised to learn that many programs are actually laid out on a 5 year schedule. There is also the attitude that 4 years is accelerated/ambitious. While the credits required to earn a degree do not seem to have changed from when I was in school, there seem to be far more 3 credit courses vs. 4 credit ones so the number of courses required does seem to have increased.
I have also noticed a pattern of students repeating classes to get better grades. When I was in school, your grade was averaged into your GPA. If you repeated a class and earned a higher grade, the original effort remained on the transcript and incorporated into the GPA. I don't think that is the case at at least one institution where I teach, although I do believe they can only repeat once. Advisors seem to at least tacitly encourage this.
It also seems to me that many of the schools have rather small programs. Come Junior and Senior years, students in these programs often have trouble finding course offerings to complete their programs. If the enrollment is too low, and the class is not run, these students are usually SOL as most schools do not allow you to take advanced classes at another institution and transfer the credit. I did not go to a large college, and was actually in a rather smaller program at that college, but I don't recall having any trouble finding classes to meet with my degree requirements.
A report published recently by the Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization, found that only 37 percent of first-time freshmen entering four-year bachelor's-degree programs actually complete their degrees within four years.
Another 26 percent take either five or six years. And the remaining 37 percent either don't get their degrees at all or complete their coursework in more than six years.