The Pathway To Graduate From College On Time

Oct 21 / Darryl Williams
In higher education, administrators and faculty often use terms like acceptance rates, diversity, equity, inclusion, and student success. Additionally, you will come across terms such as persistence, retention, and graduation rates as well. Perhaps one key to student success is simply taking more classes per semester.

I read an interesting article discussing the extended timeline for the current college student. According to  
National Center for Education Statistics 60% of college students are taking up to 6 years to earn their degree. At 2-year institutions, only 34% of students attained their degree within 3 years. With this trend, more college students are taking longer to complete their program of study and graduate. What is causing this delay? Are there unaccounted prerequisites? Are full-time students more comfortable with taking fewer classes, or are there other institutional barriers coming into play?

For many years basic expectation was that college would take approximately 4+ years to complete. In all fairness, with 120 credits and 15 credits per semester, the math doesn't quite add up for students to go to college for six years. Taking 15 credits multiplied by 8 semesters ( or four years), and perhaps taking a few summer classes should get you there, right? Well, what is not factored into this equation are the number of prerequisites, available class offerings, dropping, withdrawing or failing classes, changing of majors, lack of transferability from other institutions, etc. This can certainly add to how many credits one will actually need to graduate.

In recent articles over the years, there has been a question on whether students have received the proper guidance and from college advisors on what is the most efficient route to achieving their degree or educational goals. In the New York Times article, 6 Reasons You May Not graduate On Time, it suggests that there are a series of barriers one should consider when going to school and expecting to complete it in 4 years. One of these barriers include the misconception of going full-time, and only taking 12 credits.

There are campaigns like "15 to Finish" by the University of Hawaii and at various institutions across the U.S. that encourage students to take 15 credits per semester. It has been known to have several advantages, not only with graduating on time but also achieving a higher GPA average and saving on tuition costs. Many institutions offer a flat tuition fee, also known as banded tuition, which students pay the same rate for 12-18 credits. Therefore, if you start taking 15 credits, you start saving right away!
Not only that, but those students will also average about 30 credits a year and are almost twice as likely to graduate in 4 years compared to those who took less than 15 credits. (See The Power of 15 Credits by Complete College America).

I certainly understand that for many students, taking 15 credits is not feasible based on personal circumstances and financial responsibilities. This is understandable and certainly needs to be taken into consideration. However, shouldn't all students be encouraged to take as much as they can without overextending themselves? It might involve some personal sacrifices or a recalibration of one's schedule, but the more credits earned, the more the momentum swings toward completion and eventually graduation.

Some key takeaways:

  • Students taking 15 credits per semester do better academically and are more likely to persist to graduation. 

  • Students who take 30 credits in their first year are more likely to graduate on time.
  • Students graduate in
    4+ years and enter the workforce and career sooner.

  • Save in tuition costs each semester and
    less student debt!
  • Part time students
    have the highest risk
    of dropping out and less likely to persist to graduation.  
  • The lower number of credits attempted the longer the path to graduation.  
Along with the increased credits needed to graduate on time, there will no doubt be an increase in the need for academic preparation. High school graduates go through enormous changes in mindset, self-esteem, social changes, and living environment in a matter of months (from June to September). 

The pertinent question remains, when students are starting their college experience, are they ready to meet the academic expectations, mindset, and self-discipline required to be successful?

Far too many students face the harsh reality that they were not prepared as they thought they were. Students soon realize that college academics require more from them as independent learners and they are accountable for their own success. This means they must meet the expectations of the academic rigor, studying, preparing for tests in order to succeed. 

Outward In Learning helps to bridge the academic culture shift and helps to prepare students for the expectation, discipline and mindset to start their college career with confidence!

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