April 5, 2017
Data Snapshot: On-Time Graduation and the Credits Needed to Get There
Complete College America released today the first in a series of data snapshots that explore key metrics on college completion, affordability and student success. The first report, which looks at national on-time completion rates and credit accumulation, points to 15 to Finish initiatives as a proven tool to boost the number of students who are on track for on-time graduation, ultimately reducing student loan debt in the process.
Data show that most full-time college students are not taking the number of credits needed each semester to graduate on time. With standard requirements of 60 and 120 credits for associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees respectively, students should be taking at least 30 credits each year in order to stay on track. Unfortunately, just one out of every four full-time students does so.
KNOW THIS: Far too few “full-time” students take the credits needed to graduate on time.
The result: just 40% 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.
The CCA data snapshot also shares disaggregation of the data by race and Pell status for both graduation rates and credit accumulation.
KNOW THIS: Students from underrepresented populations are less likely to graduate on time.
In response to these troubling numbers, states and institutions around the country are launching 15 to Finish campaigns to highlight the consequences of graduating late – including increased loan debt and lost wages – and encouraging students to take at least 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year (including summers) to ensure on-time completion. The campaign also highlights the fact 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.
15 to Finish campaigns have been launched in nearly 30 states, including eight state-wide initiatives being launched this year in partnership with Complete College America. CCA also recently joined with NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising to release Shared Principles for Boosting On-Time Graduation and to encourage the nation’s advisors to take part in 15 to Finish initiatives.
While not all students will be able to take 15 credits per semester, providing information about what it takes to graduate on time ensures students are making informed decisions about course loads, the time it takes to graduate and the costs associated with their academic pathway.
“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 President Tom Sugar. “Our work across the country is empowering states, higher education systems and institutions to help more students accomplish more college credits each year, saving them and their families millions of dollars and making the dream of a college degree much more likely.”
Sample of 15 to Finish Results
The University of Hawai’i System – where 15 to Finish originated – launched an aggressive marketing campaign to inform students of the importance of taking 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year. In just one year, the initiative saw dramatic increases in the percentage of students taking 15 credits, including at the Manoa campus, where the percentage of students taking 15 credits jumped from 38% to 64%.
The University System of Georgia, through their Complete College Georgia initiative, has achieved some of the most significant results to date in their efforts to boost credit accumulation and ensure students are on track for on-time graduation, with increases as high as 77 percentage points in the number of students taking at least 15 credits per semester. Among the results, Augusta University increased their numbers from 8% in 2012 to 85% in 2015; Clayton State University increased from 11% to 73%; and Georgia Southwestern State University increased from 16% to 85%.
Following the launch of the state’s 15 to Finish initiative, institutions across Indiana saw notable increases in the number of students taking and completing 30 credits each year. At Ball State University, Purdue University West Lafayette and Indiana State University, roughly 80% of students now take 30 credits per year. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) increased the percentage of first-time, full-time students taking 15 credits from 28% in 2012 to 69% in 2016. The institution’s data also indicate that all full-time undergraduates (not just first-time, full-time students) are taking more credits. In fall 2011, 36% of IUPUI undergrads were enrolled in 15 or more credits; in fall 2016, that number grew to 60%. Purdue University Northwest saw similar gains: in 2011, just 27% of first-time, full-time students enrolled in 15 or more credits in their first semester, but by 2015, 67% were taking the number of credits needed to graduate on time.
Mississippi’s 15 to Finish initiative, entitled Finish in 4, has led to significant increases in credit accumulation throughout the state. The Institutions of Higher Learning, which provides guidance and management over Mississippi’s public universities, reports that the percentage of Mississippi undergraduates enrolling in 15 or more credits increased from 49% in 2011 to 66.8% in 2016. Additionally, 87.3% of first-time, incoming students at IHL’s institutions now take 15 or more credits in their first semester.
15 to Finish campaigns led to major boosts in the percentage of first-time, full-time students taking at least 15 credits per semester at many of the Nevada System of Higher Education‘s institutions, including at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where numbers increased from 36.2% in fall 2012 to 63.6% in fall 2014. At the University of Nevada, Reno, numbers increased from 62.3% to 80.1%.