January 10, 2017

Complete College America and NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising Launch Effort to Boost On-Time Completion Rates, Reduce Student Debt

Complete College America and NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising – an organization representing more than 12,000 members – announced today a joint effort to boost on-time completion rates and reduce student loan debt in partnership with the nation’s academic advisors. The initiative supports academic advisors’ integral role in college completion efforts and encourages participation in 15 to Finish campaigns that increase credit accumulation and provide students critical information about on-time completion.

As part of the announcement, the two organizations released Shared Principles for Boosting On-Time Graduation, outlining the challenges facing today’s students and the role advisors can play in the solution. Data show that most full-time American college students do not graduate on time – just 41% of full-time students at four-year, flagship institutions and 20% at four-year, non-flagship institutions graduate in four years; 5% of full-time students at two-year institutions graduate in two years (CCA Data Collection). Additionally, most full-time students are not earning the 30 credits needed each academic year to graduate on time.

While not all students will be able to take 15 credits per semester, providing critical information about what it takes to graduate on time ensures students are making informed decisions about course loads, their time to degree and the costs associated with their academic pathway.

15 to Finish campaigns highlight the consequences of graduating late – including increased loan debt and lost wages – and encourage students to take at least 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year (including summers) to ensure on-time completion. Additionally, research has shown that students who take at least 15 credits per semester are not only more likely to complete, they do better academically and are more likely to be retained year over year.

The result is a win-win for students and the schools they attend: better grades and faster completion for students and higher enrollments for colleges. 15 to Finish initiatives also help drive other changes, including scheduling solutions and financial incentives, to ensure institutions and systems are doing their part to make increased credit accumulation possible for their students.

Results from around the country show that many more students could be taking the credits needed to graduate on time. The University of Hawai’i System – where 15 to Finish originated – has doubled the percentage of first-time freshmen who enroll in 15 or more credits in their first semester. Since launching the initiative at its urban campus, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has increased the percentage of first-time, full-time students taking 15 credits from 28% in 2012 to 69% in 2016.

“There’s a glaring disconnect in American higher education: Most students tell us they want to graduate on time, but too few finish enough college courses each year – including summers – to do so,” said Complete College America Interim President Tom Sugar. “This vital partnership with academic advisors will empower these frontline leaders with tools and strategies to help more students accomplish more college credits each year, saving themselves and their families millions of dollars and making the dream of a college degree much more likely.”

“It is essential that advisors provide learning experiences for students by teaching them why taking 15 hours is important, but also helping them prepare for the study habits and time management needed to take this full load,” said NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt. “Teaching students how to develop proactive plans for being successful when taking 15 credits is the key role for academic advisors – not just informing students to register for these credits. This teaching role for academic advisors is essential in the success of all students in higher education today.”

The new partnership will provide resources, campaign materials and technical assistance, building upon the 13 state-wide and more than 120 campus-based 15 to Finish initiatives that are currently under way.

You can view Complete College America’s new 15 to Finish campaign video here.

About Complete College America

Established in 2009, Complete College America is a national nonprofit with a single mission: to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. For more information, visit our website (

About NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising

Chartered in 1979, NACADA promotes student success by advancing the field of academic advising globally. NACADA provides opportunities for professional development, networking, and leadership for its diverse membership. For more information, visit our website at (

November 11, 2016

University of Hawai’i System receives first-ever CCA President’s Award for “uncommon leadership” in national college completion efforts

National nonprofit Complete College America (CCA) announced today that the University of Hawai’i System is the inaugural recipient of not one, but two, Complete College America President’s Awards. The announcement was made as part of CCA’s 2016 Annual Convening of the Alliance in San Francisco, an event that brought together close to 600 higher education leaders and advocates from around the country.

CCA established the President’s Award to recognize innovation and outstanding contributions to national college completion efforts, especially as it relates to the organization’s five Game Changer strategies. Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, said the award honors “those who demonstrate uncommon leadership and courage – the innovators who have been unwilling to tolerate the shortcomings of the current higher education system and instead endeavor every day to ensure many more students are able to graduate.”

In presenting the award to the University of Hawai’i System, Complete College America highlighted Hawai’i’s STAR program – an internally developed technology solution designed to help students complete their degrees on time. The easy-to-use interface allows students to track their progress toward completion, review degree requirements and milestone courses along their academic pathway, and explore the impact of scheduling decisions and changes in major on the time it will take them to graduate.

The University of Hawai’i System was also recognized for the creation of 15 to Finish, a campaign that encourages students to take 15 credits per semester (30 credits per year) – the only enrollment level that ensures on-time graduation. Since its launch as part of the Hawai’i Graduation Initiative, 15 to Finish campaigns have been implemented by seven states at scale and an additional 120 institutions nationwide. An additional seven states have committed to launching campaigns in 2017.

“The University of Hawai’i system understands that for far too many students, college takes too long, costs too much and graduates too few,” Jones said. “President Lassner and his team have charged forward to address these challenges head on, choosing to lead, not to follow.”

Jones went on to say, “The 15 to Finish and STAR initiatives are a powerful combination, providing students not only with the information, but also the structure necessary to graduate on time. We are grateful for the leadership Hawaii has shown and look forward to the work we will continue to do together.”

“This honor really recognizes the work of many people across UH for over 15 years,” said Lassner. “It has taken persistent vision and focus by administrators, IT specialists, advisors, faculty and students to put us in this national leadership position. Every day we are advancing our homegrown Graduation Pathway System, STAR, in new ways to help more UH students across our statewide system complete college in a timely manner, also saving money for them and their families.”

Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Complete College America Announce New Partnership to Boost Graduation Rates in Nation’s HBCUs

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and Complete College America (CCA) announced today the formation of a new partnership that will focus efforts on boosting graduation rates throughout the nation’s black colleges, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs). The announcement was made as part of CCA’s 2016 Annual Convening of the Alliance in San Francisco, an event that brought together close to 600 higher education leaders and advocates from around the country. TMCF President & CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. served as the closing keynote speaker for the event.

TMCF will join CCA as the 41st member of the organization’s Alliance – a network of states and institutional consortia that have committed to completion goals and implementation at scale of the organization’s Game Changers strategies. TMCF’s membership, which greatly enhances CCA’s ongoing efforts to close achievement gaps, is the first of its kind – representing a national consortium of nearly 50 publicly-supported black colleges that will now have access to the full breadth of CCA’s resources and technical assistance efforts.

“HBCUs have long been our nation’s greatest champions for ensuring access to college, especially for African American students,” said Complete College America President Stan Jones. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the seriousness of their commitment not only to access, but to student success and completion. We applaud the Thurgood Marshall College Fund – and the colleges they represent – and look forward to working together to dramatically boost college completion rates and close achievement gaps.”

“I am extremely proud of this partnership and TMCF’s inclusion because it is solution driven. It’s no secret that black college graduation rates could be higher. TMCF is committed to be apart of the solution to educate, empower and encourage students on our campuses to stay the course, finish the race and graduate,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr. “The strategic alliance with CCA is timely and I have no doubt will lead to positive outcomes for our students and member-schools. This is a new day for black colleges.”

The first joint project for TMCF and CCA will be the collection of completion data using CCA’s Common College Completion Metrics. The initial collection – which will explore graduation rates, credit accumulation, time to degree, and remediation rates, among other data – will provide baseline information to advance the organizations’ shared mission to close achievement gaps.

In addition, TMCF will also be launching a national 15 to Finish campaign with member institutions to encourage more students to take at least 15 credits per semester (30 credits per year)—the only enrollment level that puts students on track for on-time completion. The 15 to Finish initiative, which began at the University of Hawai’i, is one of Complete College America’s five Game Changing strategies.

The two organizations will invite philanthropic partners to help fund broad-based implementation of CCA’s strategies at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

October 26, 2016

Complete College America announces recipients of inaugural GPS Direct Seal of Approval and Emerging Technology awards

Complete College America today announced the first-ever recipients of the GPS Direct Seal of Approval and Emerging Technology awards. The two awards recognize software tools that most effectively promote college completion and student success through alignment with the organization’s Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) initiative.

For 2016, the award program evaluated vendors and their software solutions for functionality that supports pathways, including the ability to default register students onto their chosen academic map, easy integration of the registration process and software, and the mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and reporting for when students get off track.

The 2016 GPS Direct Seal of Approval recipients are EAB and CollegeSource. The Emerging Technology Award recognizes EduNav and Full Measure Education.

Each of the four award recipients met the standards established by CCA’s Seal of Approval Advisory Board – a blue-ribbon panel of top technologists and higher education leaders. Seal of Approval recipients exhibited a wider scale of implementation and longer tenure in pathways work. Emerging Technology Award recipients show smaller-scale implementation, but demonstrate innovative approaches and new thinking on the role of higher education technology in student success and the trajectory towards completion.

“With student debt now totaling $1.3 trillion, states and institutions must recognize that one of the most powerful steps we can take for college affordability is to ensure many more students graduate on time,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. “GPS Direct is laser-focused on this goal, and we’re thrilled that these developers are providing technology solutions that help students get on track, stay on track and ultimately graduate.”

Complete College America Senior Vice President Tom Sugar, who oversaw the selection committee, stated, “Technology plays an important role in promoting on-time completion. These vendors have not only shown the efficacy of their solutions, they have fully embraced the transformative and proven philosophy that putting students on highly-structured degree maps and monitoring their progress can dramatically boost college completion rates.”

The award recipients will be recognized as part of Complete College America’s 2016 Annual Convening in San Francisco, California on November 11th.

September 22, 2016

Colleges in Four States to Develop New Career-Focused Student Advising Model

USA Funds Awards Complete College America $1 Million Grant to Develop and Deploy Purpose First Models

USA Funds® and Complete College America today announced that higher education and institutional leaders in four states will develop Purpose Firsta new model of best-practice student advising tools. The new advising model will combine career assessment and counseling, college return-on-investment data, and labor market information to assist college students in making more fully informed and deliberate choices of majors and careers. The announcement comes as, this week, leaders from each of the participating states gather in Denver, Colorado, to formally launch their work.

The two-year initiative, funded by a $1 million grant from USA Funds, will enable students to pursue their college goals with a stronger sense of purpose, increased motivation, and enhanced confidence that a chosen program of study matches academic and personal strengths, and a clear understanding of future career opportunities.

The four systems selected to participate in the demonstration project include:

  • Community College System of New Hampshire and members of the university system
  • Tennessee Board of Regents
  • University of Hawaii System
  • University of Houston and Houston Community Colleges


A total of 30 two-year and four-year colleges from the four systems will work collaboratively to develop and implement a set of tools and practices that other postsecondary institutions can replicate to improve student outcomes through advisement. The new model will encourage students to explore career aspirations and choices early in their college years and help them pursue a more direct path, through their academic course work and career training, to connect with quality employment and rewarding careers following graduation.

“USA Funds is pleased to support Purpose First, an innovative approach to advising of college students to help them make more informed decisions about the ‘big choice’ of which major and career to pursue,” said Carol D’Amico, USA Funds executive vice president, National Engagement and Philanthropy. “To ensure students get the most from their tuition dollars, they need to follow a more purposeful path through college and into rewarding careers, guided by real-time information about the needs of the labor market that students will enter following graduation.”

“College students should not have to engage in random acts of enrollment as they chart their path through American higher education,” said Complete College America President Stan Jones. “By putting purpose first, we ensure they won’t have to. We give them tools to make better informed decisions on the front end, provide a clear path to graduation day and ensure they have the resources necessary to get there.”

About USA Funds

USA Funds is a nonprofit corporation that supports Completion With a Purpose®, building a more purposeful path for America’s students to and through college and on to rewarding careers and successful lives. USA Funds pursues its nonprofit mission through philanthropic activities and partnerships, policy research, and programs and services that enhance preparation for, access to and success in higher education. Learn more at

August 18, 2016

#15toFinish Materials Now Available


August 16, 2016

REGISTER TODAY | CCA’s Annual Convening in San Francisco

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August 1, 2016

Complete College America Unveils Technology Seal of Approval

Software to be evaluated for functionality that utilizes best practices and empowers college completion

Complete College America announced today the launch of the GPS Direct Seal of Approval, a program designed to recognize software tools that most effectively promote college completion through adherence to the essential components of the organization’s Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) initiative.

“This seal of approval presents a powerful opportunity to shift the culture and shape the overall development of higher education technology,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. “We know that students are more successful when they are provided default pathways, guaranteed milestone courses, intrusive (just-in-time) advising, and the mechanisms to make better informed choices; the technology at our colleges and universities should complement these best practices.”

Complete College America developed the GPS Direct initiative to encourage higher education institutions to utilize best practices for improved student success, academic progress and degree attainment for students. Specifically, GPS Direct requires institutions to define and offer clearly organized pathways to completion, ensure course availability, and provide technology that tracks progress and manages resources for current and future planning.

For 2016, the award program will evaluate vendors and their software solutions for functionality that supports pathways, including the ability to default students onto their chosen academic map, easy integration of the registration process and software, and the mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and reporting for when students get off track.

“Rather than allowing students to wander aimlessly through their postsecondary experience, institutions should give students a clear path to graduation,” Jones said. “While technology alone will not solve our college completion challenges, an effective technology solution can better prepare students to choose the right path, make progress on that path, and ultimately complete their degree or credential.”

An advisory board comprised of national experts and practitioners will assist with defining the measurements and scorecard, promoting best practices and awarding the GPS Direct Seal of Approval to successful candidates.

You can view the GPS Direct Seal of Approval project solicitation here.

July 15, 2016

New report from CCA, SHEEO highlights success data across races and ethnicities, points to need for systemic reforms

The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and Complete College America (CCA) today released Serving the Equity Imperative: Intentional Action Toward Greater Student Success, a policy brief that utilizes the CCA data from 30 states to look at student success across race and ethnicity categories through the postsecondary education pipeline and highlights strategies for boosting success and closing achievement gaps.

Analysis of the CCA dataset revealed that there is little difference in performance, including among different races and ethnic categories, for those who actually earn a postsecondary credential. Black and Hispanic students who complete their degrees take about as much time and earn about as many credits as white and Asian students.

However, at each step in the postsecondary pipeline, from enrollment in postsecondary education to success in remediation and first-year, credit-bearing courses, black and Hispanic students are slightly less likely to succeed. For example, black and Hispanic students are more likely to place into remedial coursework and less likely to move past this phase into college-level coursework. Over time, these gaps compound and create the equity gaps that we must address.

SHEEO is focused on increasing postsecondary education attainment and student success through an ambitious goal: 60 percent of adults from every socioeconomic and demographic category completing a postsecondary degree or credential of quality. In order to meet this attainment goal and the attainment goals of our members, states and institutions must close equity gaps between underserved black and Hispanic students and their better served white and Asian peers. There is a clear imperative to close these gaps—not just in order to reach attainment goals but to ensure economic opportunity for all Americans.

The CCA data suggests that underrepresented populations do not necessarily require more time or flexibility to be successful; rather, states and institutions should look to systemic changes in areas along the postsecondary pipeline—such as traditional remediation—where underserved students are disproportionately represented.

CCA promotes five policies, the Game Changers, that support innovation at postsecondary institutions and seek to boost completion rates: Performance FundingCorequisite RemediationFull-Time is 15Structured Schedules, and Guided Pathways to Success (GPS). Based on the early results in states implementing these programs, there is optimism that these approaches can be used to not only increase student success but also close achievement gaps. In states such as Tennessee, Hawaii, Colorado, and Georgia, these policies are helping underserved students succeed in postsecondary education and, if these early results continue, equity gaps should begin to close.

“The Game Changers are leading to dramatic results around the country – two, three and four times the success rates of traditional approaches,” said CCA president Stan Jones. “These reforms—focused on decreasing the time to a degree, providing informed choice for students, and adding necessary structures that enable success—are powerful tools in our efforts to close achievement gaps and ensure many more Americans are able to earn a degree.”

“For any state to meet its college attainment goals or to address the needs of its people, it must erase the gaps that have kept students from many communities from succeeding in college,” said Peter Blake, chair of the SHEEO Executive Committee and the director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. “Helping students to enroll full time and to persist until they finish is essential for every state.”

Russ Deaton, the interim executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, stressed the value of the outcomes-based funding efforts that Tennessee has used in its Drive to 55 campaign to raise the education attainment level of Tennessee adults.

“We in Tennessee have worked hard to make sure that more of our residents can attend college and those who do complete valuable degrees and credentials,” said Deaton. “We have aligned our state funding with the outcomes we seek, providing incentives for our colleges, technical colleges, and universities to serve more Tennesseans from every community in the state and to help make sure they enroll, persist, and complete.”

Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia said, “The results in Georgia for corequisite remediation have been positive: passage rates for remedial students going on to enter and pass a credit-bearing course within a two-year span of time were at 21 percent. Now (using corequisite remediation), passing rates have jumped to 71 percent (in English) and 64 percent (in math).”

These early results from the states and institutions implementing the Game Changers did not happen overnight. They are the result of intentional and committed action to change how student supports are delivered and improve success for underserved student populations. As such, they can serve as examples for how other states and institutions can address achievement gaps and improve overall degree completion.

June 23, 2016

Complete College America Calls for “On-Time” Status in Pell

New designation would set a standard for students to complete 30 credits per year, greatly improving likelihood of on-time completion

In a new policy brief, On-Time Pell: Maintain Access, Ensure Completion, Complete College America (CCA) outlines a plan for the creation of an “on-time” status for the federal Pell Grant Program. Under the proposed plan, “on-time” students would be funded for 30 credits per year, incentivizing on-time completion and putting an end to the Pell penalty currently facing students who choose to take the credits necessary to graduate on time.

The new status would enable both full-time and part-time students to take 30 credits per year in whatever enrollment combination works for them, ultimately boosting traditionally low completion rates for Pell recipients and better utilizing federal funding. Currently, the Pell Grant covers up to 12 credits per term or 24 credits per year, but to graduate on time, students must complete 30 credits per year. Students who currently choose to enroll in 30 credits are forced to cover the remaining six credits without financial support from the Pell Grant.

Students must enroll in at least 12 credits to be considered full-time, but too many students and advisors aim only for this minimum requirement. States and institutions also adhere to this de-facto standard of 12 credits for their aid policies, causing ramifications that stretch beyond the Pell program.

“It’s encouraging that new policies are being explored in Washington that expand opportunities for Pell recipients, but for Pell to be truly built for completion, we have to pursue a change that incentivizes taking 30 credits a year,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. “Students should not be financially penalized for trying to graduate on time. Our plan provides a status that puts on-time completion within reach.”

The CCA plan would fund “on-time” status students at 30 credits per year, allowing them to draw down their total lifetime Pell eligibility of 144 credits more quickly than the current annual cap of 24 credits permits. Adding an “on-time” status increases the likelihood students will complete their degrees, saves students money long term, and ensures taxpayers receive a better return on investment. The new status does not:

  • change the official annual maximum Pell award or devalue Pell.
  • require an increase to the total per-student lifetime Pell eligibility amount.
  • change the definitions for full-time or part-time or harm these Pell groups.

“Students who take less than 15 credits a semester are already on the 5-year plan,” said Jones. “This “on-time” status benefits students financially, increases their likelihood of obtaining a degree, and sends a message to state and institutional leaders that we must do more to encourage on-time completion,” said Jones.

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