On-Time Completion Tactics
Students are more concerned than ever about ways to keep college affordable, however many do not realize that time to degree is a major contributor to costs. While an associate degree should be finished in two years and a bachelor's in four, Kentucky students often delay graduation by one semester to one year due to low course loads. The result is a more expensive college credential and deferred entry into the workforce to recoup costs.
15 to Finish Kentucky
15 to Finish Kentucky is the Council's campaign to raise awareness that taking 15 credits a semester, rather than the minimum of 12, is how students can graduate on time and reduce the price of college. The last campaign, which ran in 2013-14, included media advertising and advisor resources.
The Council also produced a report in 2018 and a presentation in 2023 that highlights additional research about the increased success of students who pursued 15 credit hours course loads. The study showed a high correlation between improved graduation rates and 15-credit course loads taken the first semester of freshman year.
Other state and national 15 to Finish programs
Kentucky was one of many states that implemented a 15 to Finish campaign.
- Complete College America
- University of Hawaii 15 to Finish Campaign information
- Missouri Department of Higher Education 15 to Finish Missouri information
- University of Wisconsin System 15 to Finish Campaign information
- West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission information
Similarly, individual institutions have adopted messaging that emphasizes the importance of earning 30 credits a year to to stay on track.
- University of Central Florida, Think 30, Finish in 4 Campaign
- Western Carolina University, Finish in Four Campaign
Other on-time completion tactics
There are several ways to encourage on-time completion:
Banded tuition offers students discounts on the cost per credit hour if the student attempts 12 or more credits. If the student enrolls in 12 credits (full-time), they pay the same tuition regardless of the additional credits. This allows students to take additional courses each semester without taking on additional cost.
Degree program credit caps at 60 and 120 credits ensure students can complete these degrees in two or four years if they enroll at 15 credits per term or 30 credits per year.
Academic program maps showing four-year pathways demonstrate which courses students should enroll in and in which order. High quality maps account for toxic course combinations that students might encounter when taking 15 credits per term.
Intentional course scheduling considers 15 credit/term-based maps and ensures course availability to students who are seeking on-time completion.
Summer course availability provides flexibility for students who choose to spread out credit accumulation within a year but still complete their degree on time.
Proactive academic advising educates students on the importance of taking more than 12 hours per semester. This can be accomplished by providing information to incoming freshmen during the onboarding process, by incorporating this information into academic advising, and through other means.
To note, while 15 credits a semester may work for most students, there will be exceptions. Many students intentionally enroll in college part-time or with a minimum of full-time load to balance work, caregiving and other responsibilities. It is important for advisors to find the right fit for each student to ensure success.
- In Indiana, analysis from Postsecondary Analytics -- a research consulting firm -- found that the change in financial aid policy led to a 5.2 percent average growth rate in the likelihood of students earning 30 credits or more in a year. For students who received Indiana’s highest financial aid award, the average growth rate in the likelihood of earning 30 or more credits in a year increased 10.1 percent”.
- Complete College America cites the Beginning Postsecondary Student (BPS) Survey, which “shows what happens when students start with different course loads: part-time, “almost” full-time, and truly full-time. BPS followed the transcripts of a nationally representative sample of students who first enrolled in the 2003–04 academic year and were followed for six years. The evidence is clear: Undergraduates enrolled full-time — specifically, 30 or more credits completed in their first year — are more likely to graduate on time than students who complete fewer credits per year. These findings confirm earlier studies that consistently show a relationship between enrollment intensity and completion.”
- The Community College Research Center released a report based on Tennessee data that “found that after two years, or six semesters, the typical community college student who started with a 15-credit load was 10 credits ahead of the typical student who started with 12 credits. Those students who started with 15 credits were no more likely to pass or fail their courses… There were also strong momentum gains for minority students, and the outcomes were stronger for students who sustained momentum through their first year.”
Last Updated: 9/15/2023