15 to Finish: From Idea to Action: Part 2 – Minimizing Costs and Tracking Progress

Girls Studying

15 to Finish, a campaign designed by Complete College America, works to increase the overall number of students taking 15 credits per semester (for an academic year of 30 credit hours) with the ultimate goal of increasing postsecondary degree completion. Complete College America’s Webinar on April 29, 2014, featured education leaders from around the country discussing their degree completion efforts and program results. This post is the second in a two-part series recapping this Webinar event.

Low-Cost, High Impact

Tamara Workman, Director of Transfer Student Services at Southern Illinois University (SIU), shared her experiences as a Complete College for America partner since 2011. One of the first steps SIU took was to influence student registration behavior and to shift the focus from getting into college to successfully completing their degrees. In 2012, SIU included the 15 to Finish messaging in their new student orientation. SIU also found that the best strategy to ensure completion is to communicate to students the simple message: the best way to minimize cost and optimize their individual opportunities to enter the job market is by completing their degrees in four years.

SIU incorporated an online “revolving message” that explained the advantages of taking 15 or more credits on the registrar’s webpage, which also encourages students to take additional summer courses. With this relatively low-cost, student-facing online media campaign, SIU was able to increase registration for 15 or more credits by 1.7 percent in the first year, and by 6.4 percent the following fall.

Keeping Score

Finally, Richard Sluder, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at the University of Central Missouri (UCM), presented UCM’s Learning to a Greater Degree Contract, which provides students with a custom course plan, enhanced academic advising, a seven-day-a-week campus, and a $1,000 scholarship for students who complete 90 credit hours with the first three calendar years of study. 

Some of UCM’s goals included graduating an additional 100 students from the fall 2013 freshman cohort within four years and graduating an additional 150 students from the same cohort within six years. Sluder stated that achieving this goal requires tracking persistence, retention, progression, and completion rates very carefully, on a semester-by-semester basis.

While academic preparedness and socioeconomic background can be important factors in earning a college degree on time, the data shows that registering for and maintaining a course load of 15 or more credits per semester is actually the best predictor for successful postsecondary degree attainment. Creating and leveraging a solid base of evidence to encourage buy-in from a variety of school stakeholders and effectively communicating to students the advantages of earning a degree within four years is showing promising results at the national level.

To access full Webinar content and information click here.

This guest blog post was submitted by the American Youth Policy Forum.


Photo Credit: Flickr

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