Report: Students benefit from 15 credits per semester

Minimum 'full-time' course loads are not enough to graduate on time

Students enrolled in a 15-credit semester are more likely to complete their degree, regardless of whether they attend a two- or four-year institution, Diverse Education reports.

In her new study, "Redefining Full-Time in College: Evidence on 15-Credit Strategies," author Serena Klempin examines the effects of implementing 15-credit strategies at various higher education institutions. 

"The fact that students can be enrolled full time and still not graduate on time is one reason why it takes students so long to complete degrees," says Klempin, a research associate at Columbia University Teachers College's Community College Research Center.

According to a recent survey, more than two-thirds of college students carry a credit load that will prevent them from graduating on time, even if they never switch majors, fail a class, or take unnecessary courses. For full-time undergraduates taking 12 credits per semester, it is mathematically impossible to reach the 60 or 120 credits required for an associate or bachelor's degree in two or four years, respectively.

Institutions examined by Klempin used a variety of methods to encourage students to take more credits. Officials at Adams State University offer $500 scholarships to students taking 30 credits per year and expanded flat tuition to cover 12 to 20 credits instead of the former 12 to 15, resulting in an 11% jump in credits attempted per semester.

Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii System implemented a public awareness campaign and saw the number of students taking 15 credits increase by 14.7% in one year.

Before altering full-time policies, Klempin advises schools to first research the potential impact on their unique student populations. Individuals with competing responsibilities, such as students who are parents, may not be able to complete 15 credits at once.

"Before 15-credit strategies become institutionalized or used as the basis of financial aid requirements or tuition policies," writes Klempin, "careful consideration should be given to understanding different types of strategies, their potential impacts on students and how the cost of financial incentives will be managed" (Abdul-Alim, Diverse Education, 10/14).


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