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15 to Finish

Boost the number of students who are on track for on-time graduation by encouraging enrollment in 15 credits each semester (30 credits per year, including summers). Financial aid dollars, as well as institutional process and practice, should support that standard.



The vast majority of college students aren’t taking the credits needed to graduate on time, despite research showing the significant benefits of doing so – including better academic performance, higher retention rates and the increased likelihood of completion. Through the use of advertising campaigns, advisor engagement and new institutional policy and practice, more than 25 states and over 200 institutions are changing that. 15 to Finish – which originated at the University of Hawaii – encourages students who are able to take more credits, graduate on time and start earning faster.

Though challenging at first, taking 15 credits was critical to my academic success. Not only will I be graduating on time, but I’ll be graduating alongside the friends I made at my freshman orientation. Everyone should take 15 to Finish.


Student, University of New Orleans

Know the Problem

The math is clear: in order to graduate on time, students must take at least 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year. But even amongst full-time students, the majority are taking credit loads that automatically put them on a 3- to 4- year plan for an associate degree and a 5-year plan for a bachelor’s degree. Each extra semester comes with a cost, and the longer it takes, the more life gets in the way – decreasing the likelihood students will ever earn their degree. Further complicating the matter, federal financial aid policies require students to be enrolled in just 12 credits each semester to be eligible for assistance, creating a de facto standard that 12 credits is “full-time.” The result: students graduate late, if at all, and rack up unnecessary time and debt in the process.


Four-Year All Other

Four-Year Highest Research

African American





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Four-Year All Other

Four-Year Highest Research


Four-Year All Other

Four-Year Highest Research

Take Action

With 15 to Finish, students are advised to enroll in 15 credits each semester (30 credits per year, including summer enrollment), putting them on track to graduate on time. Data also show that students who take 15 credits do better academically and are more likely to persistBanded tuition – ensuring that students pay the same amount whether they take 12 or 15 credits per semester – along with additional campus perks help sweeten the deal for students, and capping degree programs at 120 credits for a 4-year degree and 60 credits for a 2-year degree ensures on-time completion is possible.

  • 15 to Finish Campaign

    15 to Finish Campaign

    While not all students can take 15 credits each semester, many more could do so successfully. In addition to advisors sharing information about the benefits of taking 15, marketing campaigns should be used to help spread the word across campus. [See 15 to Finish Campaign Materials Here]


  • Banded Tuition

    Banded Tuition

    Establish banded tuition to ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than the current 12-credit standard. This provides a powerful incentive for students to complete on time, because there are no financial consequences for enrolling in a heavier course load. [Learn About Banded Tuition at Indiana University]

  • Full Time is 15

    Full Time is 15

    Create financial aid packages and academic maps based on the 15-credit standard. Train advisors to counsel full-time students into 15 credits each term or 30 credits per year, and consider additional incentives for “on-time” students such as preferred parking to further encourage truly full-time enrollment. [Making the case for 15 to Finish]

  • Capped Credit Requirements

    Capped Credit Requirements

    Limit the amount of credits required to earn a degree. States and institutions should place caps on bachelor’s degree programs at 120 credits, except when accreditation or licensure requirements demand more. Quality associate degrees should be accomplished in a maximum of 60 credit hours. [Credit Caps at Minnesota State]

Implementation Guide


The vast majority of American college students do not graduate on time, but many more can, saving themselves and their families precious time and money. Taking 15 credits per semester (30 per year) is a surefire way to get on track. The resources below will provide an overview of 15 to Finish, including a deeper dive into the problem, resources for generating buy-in amongst stakeholders, and additional items that can assist in developing your action plan.


The Power of 15 Credits

Students who take 15 credits per semester are more likely to complete.

CCA Alliance Compact and Scaling Standards

Guidance on our work, our Alliance, and effective implementation.

  • Know the Problem

    Resources below provide information on the challenges presented by low credit enrollment and offer solutions to help impatient reformers more effectively drive change in their states, regions or institutions.


    How Full Time are "Full-Time" Students?

    "Full-time" does not mean "on-time" for most students.

    The Elusive Goal of On-Time Graduation

    Few college students get 4-year degrees in 4 years.

  • Generate Buy In

    Key stakeholders need to see data that reveals the problem and an explanation of the structural elements at its root. Share evidence-based examples of 15 to Finish’s impact, outside evaluations of the intervention, and benefits of implementing the reform. Consider “Challenge Events,” conducted in partnership with CCA, to help make the case for reform – providing in-depth information, and challenging stakeholders to support implementation.


    Redefining Full-Time in College: Evidence on 15-Credit Strategies

    Community College Research Center (CCRC)

    Momentum: The Academic and Economic Value of a 15-Credit First-Semester Course Load


  • Create an Action Plan

    Institutional teams and task forces should gather together, representing all stakeholders associated with implementation, for a Completion Academy where they will develop one-year implementation plans for scaling the strategy. Engaging with national experts who have successfully implemented reforms will allow teams to develop strong institutional plans.


    15 to Finish Essential Practices

    Checklist of practices considered to be essential to implementing 15 To Finish.

    15 to Finish Institute Agenda

    Agenda template for the design of a 15 to Finish Institute.



Successfully implementing 15 to Finish requires intentional planning and a constant feedback loop with stakeholders. Though important to assess and accommodate the specific needs of your institution, it is also beneficial to draw on proven best practices.


15 to Finish Materials

Designs - including posters, presentations and ads - that can be used for a 15 to Finish campaign.

15 to Finish Materials: Asset Instructions

Instructions for the use and printing of CCA's 15 to Finish materials.

  • Design the Strategy

    Using evidence-based models and proven best practices, implementation teams should develop their approach to the intervention, ensuring the reform is customized to meet the needs of their state and institutional partners.


    15 to Finish: From Idea to Action: Time to Completion and Importance to Advisors


    Why Even C Students Should Consider Taking 15 Credits Their First Semester


  • Communicate with Stakeholders

    Effective implementation of Game Changer strategies requires communication with a broad array of internal and external stakeholders. Communication within institutions and systems should introduce plans, provide progress reports, and deliver details of implementation. Recognizing that reform is often difficult, teams should provide ample opportunities for feedback and make adjustments to the plan as necessary while maintaining fidelity to the core components of the strategy.


    15 to Finish: From Skepticism to Scale

    Dhanfu Elston talks skepticism and scale on 15 to Finish.

    Sample 15 to Finish Press Release

    Press release template that can be used when launching 15 to Finish initiative.

  • Implement the Strategy

    Provide professional development and training opportunities for all stakeholders involved in implementation of the reform and stick to the timeline developed by the implementation teams. Document the implementation and provide opportunities for stakeholders to connect and problem solve throughout the execution of the strategy.


    Shared Principles for Boosting On-Time Graduation

    CCA and NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising

    15 to Finish Student Orientation Presentation

    Slide deck with information on the value of taking 15 credits.



As with any initiative, it is critical that 15 to Finish efforts are effectively measured and data is used proactively for improvement. Build in methods to continually improve service to students and sustain interventions through the use of policy.


Common College Completion Metrics Technical Guide

Technical Guide describing concepts and data elements.

Defining "Full-Time" Tuition and Fees

Postsecondary Analytics

  • Measure

    Successful implementation requires consistent evaluation of progress and outcomes against Game Changer metrics that serve as baselines. Implementation leaders should survey participating institutions to document strategies, timelines to scale and technical assistance needs. Qualitative data should also be collected from implementers and students.


    Impact of Enrolling in 15+ Credits on Selected Performance Measures (UHCC)

    University of Hawaii

    Impact of Enrolling in 15+ Credits on Selected Performance Outcomes (4-Years)

    University of Hawaii

  • Refine the Implementation

    Keep improving the implementation through analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data, collected after each term of implementation. Identify improvements that can be deployed and identify challenges that require deeper analysis.


    15 to Finish Intervention Collection Spreadsheet

    Template for measuring qualitative and quantitative outcomes.

    Indiana: Reforming Student Financial Aid to Increase College Completion

    Financial incentives have positive effects on completing 30 credit hours.

  • Sustain the Strategy

    Implementation leaders should compile institutional implementation results and generate state reports focused on improved student outcomes. Explore the financial impact of reform and adjust organizational and budgetary policy to sustain the reform at scale. Engage with policy makers to codify effective reforms and to fortify needed changes.


    Three Policies to Reduce Time to Degree

    CCA/Postsecondary Analytics

    15 to Finish: Early Results and Lessons from Implementation

    Complete College Georgia


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Connect with Content Experts

Below are state and institutional leaders from around the country who have successfully implemented 15 to Finish. Use the form below to ask questions and receive expert guidance for your own implementation efforts.

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15 to Finish

Boost the number of students who are on track for on-time graduation by encouraging enrollment in 15 credits each semester (30 credits per year, including summers). Financial aid dollars, as well as institutional process and practice, should support that standard.

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Ensure all students enroll in and complete gateway math in their first year by designing math courses that are aligned with the skills students need for their chosen program of study.

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Increase gateway course completion within the first year by enrolling entering students into the college-level math and English courses, providing those who need additional help a concurrent course or lab that offers just-in-time academic support.

Momentum Year

Build momentum so students meet first-year benchmarks: informed choice of meta major or major, enrollment in 30 credits with nine in the program of study and completion of gateway courses. Provide early support and guidance for decision making, using interest assessments and labor-market data.

Academic Maps with Proactive Advising

Default students onto highly-structured academic maps that include 15 credits per semester (or 30 per year), indicate milestone and pre-requisite courses, and empower advisors to effectively monitor progress and provide intervention as needed.

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Increase degree attainment by inviting adult learners back to complete their education, providing a redesigned system that offers accelerated courses, year-round enrollment and predictable schedules. Give credit for prior learning and experience and additional support to help students navigate the system.

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