15 to Finish Campaigns Push Students to Take 15 Credits Per Semester

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 7, 2016 at 9:21 am
15 to Finish Campaigns Push Students to Take 15 Credits Per Semester

More students are enrolling in college but the problem is with graduation rates. Most measures allow six years to earn a bachelor’s degree, and federal financial aid like Pell grants are limited to a certain number of semesters. After that, students must get more creative about paying for school. All of this leads to a new emphasis by the Obama administration on getting students through college in a timely fashion.

Fifteen to Finish started on a state level, pushing for students to take 15 credits per semester. Full-time enrollment is classified as anything over 12 credits at a time, typically up to a maximum of 18 without special permission.

The Hawaii Graduation Initiative runs the 15 to Finish website. They explain, “Full-time students attending the University of Hawaii’s 2 or 4-year campuses need to earn 15 credits or more per semester to graduate on time. Students who have a plan to earn 15 credits per semester are more likely to complete college on time, earn better grades and have higher completion rates than students who are not on track to graduate on time.”

There’s a financial component too—full-time tuition is the same dollar amount for anything above 12 credits.  That one extra 3 credit class doesn’t cost you any extra money.

Two recent proposals about Pell grants are related to faster graduation. The On-Track Pell Bonus will give students an extra $300 a year in Pell money if they take 15 credits or more each semester. Pell for Accelerated Completion is a return to a past Pell system where you can attend classes year-round, not just during two semesters. For students who must work or balance other responsibilities, this can help them stay on schedule for timely graduation even if they can’t take a full credit load each term.

According to Complete College America, only half the students at four-year institutions are taking 15 credits per semester. At the community college level, the level drops to just 29%. The high population of non-traditional students enrolled in community college explains much of that number, but it also is a big part of low completion rates.

Some are concerned about an emphasis on fifteen credits. They worry that this number will become the standard, with lower funding for anyone not enrolling in that amount of credits.

Five states have used a 15 to Finish campaign involving publicity and sometimes financial incentives. In the first year, Hawaii saw a 10% increase in students taking 15 credits per semester. At one Purdue University campus, two years of pushing the program increased the rate of 15 credit students from 27% to 66%. If such dramatic results can be replicated on a national scale, this may signal a move forward for college completion rates.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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