Study finds "15 to Finish" campaigns do increase credits taken

Encouraging students to take 15 credits per semester does increase the number of credits they complete, and does not hurt GPAs, according to one analysis, Ashley Smith reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Students must take a minimum of 12 credits to be considered full-time students to qualify for federal financial aid. However, taking 12 credits per semester does not keep a student on track to graduate on time. Only 5% of community college students graduate on time, while about 36% of students at four-year private and flagship public colleges and universities do so.

Lagging graduation rates prompted the nonprofit Complete College America to advocate for a "15 to Finish" campaign and work to change state policy through the Indiana Legislature. Students at universities in Indiana now must take at least 30 credits a year, or 15 per semester, in order to renew financial aid they receive from the state.

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Postsecondary Analytics, a research consulting firm, conducted an analysis to determine whether the policy change was effective. It looked at the state's two largest financial aid awards and how its recipients performed after the legislation was implemented.

The researchers found that the policy resulted in a 5.2% average increase in likelihood that students would earn 30 credits or more per year. The increase was 10.1% for students who received Indiana's largest financial aid award. In addition, researchers found an 11.7% increase in the number of credits hours taken by minority students.

And the policy did not lead to certain negative outcomes that some had expressed concerns about. Researchers did not find significant decreases in grade point averages, completion rates, or fall-to-spring retention rates.

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"We find little evidence on potential negative side effects due to the policy," says Takeshi Yanagiura, a doctoral student in economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, who contributed to the research. However, Yanagiura did warn that the findings reflect short-term gains, and that other, long-term outcomes still need to be examined, such as the policy's effects on student debt (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 4/19; Smith, Inside Higher Ed, 5/23). 

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