Langston University President Kent Smith left CCA’s 2017 Annual Convening in New Orleans focused on bringing 15 to Finish to his campus.    

“I remember sitting there and looking at some of the information provided and thinking that’s something we can improve,” said Smith. “A group of us got together following that meeting and said, ‘let’s really go all in on this.’”

Through Oklahoma’s statewide involvement with Complete College America and commitment to the Game Changers, Langston University was already implementing Corequisite Support and Math Pathways. Students needing additional support in math or English are placed in corequisite college algebra or composition courses respectively, and a contemporary math course is an option for students who have not selected a STEM-related major.

As a participant in CCA’s Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) Initiative, Langston was provided with a liaison, CCA Fellow and Content Expert Nia Haydel, to provide guidance and support in launching a 15 to Finish campaign.

“She really helped us think through what a strategic plan would look like,” said Associate Vice President Ruth Jackson.

Jackson says the decision was made to start a major 15 to Finish marketing campaign in Spring 2018, but before informing the campus community, it was crucial that advisors be familiar with the strategy and understand the rationale for the reform that goes “a bit against conventional wisdom.”

“For years and years, we’ve thought, ‘let students take 12 hours. Don’t overload them,’” said Jackson. “We really had to do a lot of education on the part of our advisors and our faculty, and then we were ready to talk to our incoming freshmen and their parents. Even our parents who have gone to college before may have the same belief that we should start off by easing students into 12 hours.”

A deep dive into Langston’s data helped to make the case and support the evidence from other institutions. Students who earned 15 credit hours in their first semester and 30 credit hours in the first year were more likely to persist. Additionally, the university’s existing banded tuition policy removed any financial downside to enrolling in 15 credit hours.

Initial feedback from the campaign was positive, but Jackson said compiling the early results confirmed the needle was moving. First-time, full-time students enrolling in 15 credits in their first semester increased 16 percentage points in one year, from 30 percent in 2016 to 46 percent in 2017.

“It affirmed the energy and excitement we were seeing and hearing from our advisors, our faculty and our staff,” said Jackson. “It also created an opportunity to look at what we’re doing and say, ‘this is working. How can we help students that may have a little hiccup along the way?’ So, one of the things that it really forced us to do was examine our summer course offerings.”

The idea of a May semester focused on credit recovery, or “Maymester,” was born. Students who needed to repeat one of eight general education courses were invited to stay an additional two weeks at the end of the spring semester and complete it. A $500 flat feel covered housing, registration, meal plan and books.

“Initially, some students thought it was too good to be true until we went out with the messaging,” said Smith. “We quickly learned we were on to something.”

Faculty also expressed some initial skepticism and concern that the two-week course length would compromise quality. After students in the condensed course received a higher average on the same midterm and final exam as students who had taken the course over a full semester, those concerns dissipated. A total of 163 students stayed for Maymester, and the overall passage rate was 97 percent.

The success of Maymester led to the conception of a two-week early arrival program for incoming freshman. An introductory course was augmented with study and time management skills. Student affairs was engaged to revamp the traditional three-day orientation into evening events over the two-week period, providing students with more opportunities to explore majors, learn about available resources and make connections. Of the total incoming freshman class, approximately 80 percent participated in the early arrival program dubbed Fallmester. Jackson says the goal for the next cohort is 100 percent participation.

Other student success efforts including structured schedules are already in the works – all building on the momentum of 15 to Finish. Second year results from the campaign were even more impressive. First-time, full-time students enrolling in 15 credits in their first semester increased 39 percentage points in one year, from 46 percent in 2017 to 85 percent in 2018. Additionally, students completing 15 credits in their first semester increased 16 percentage points between 2016 and 2018.

“15 to Finish really forced us to have conversations across the different colleges and across the different divisions beyond academic affairs,” said Jackson. “It really helped to create the energy and the belief that we can do more.”

“As a president, I feel I can look parents in the eye now and know that, while we’re not where we want to be, we’re making a concerted and consistent effort to get students across the stage,” said Smith.