Fewer than 40% of students seeking a bachelor's degree actually graduate in four years.
While attrition is one of the main causes for this low number, delays to academic progress also keep students from graduating on time. Summer break offers an opportunity for at-risk students to get back on track, but many students can't afford to take advantage of summer courses, Grace Bird writes for Inside Higher Ed.
To help students graduate on time, the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNC Asheville) is eliminating that cost barrier altogether by offering 75 to 100 rising seniors free summer tuition, writes Bird.
UNC Asheville's "first to finish" program is an expansion of last summer's "back on track" initiative that covered summer tuition for 23 rising seniors. Nineteen of those 23 students are now on track to graduate in May, Bird reports.
The first to finish program now offers 75 to 100 students one or two free summer classes. The program is funded by a UNC System grant and targets low-income, rural, and first-gen students, says Joseph Urgo, the interim chancellor at UNC Asheville.
Related: Why even C students should take 15 credits their first semester
Any student who is one or two classes shy of junior or senior status is eligible for free summer tuition, Bird writes. The program covers tuition for four gen ed courses that fulfill the university's liberal arts requirements, says Deaver Traywick, interim senior director of student success at the university.
UNC Asheville is the only college in the UNC System to offer free summer tuition to rising seniors, but other UNC campuses may pilot their own similar programs, says Andrew Kelly, senior vice president for strategy and policy at the system.
UNC Asheville's six-year graduation rate is 60% and the four-year graduation rate is just under 40%, writes Bird. The first to finish pilot program challenges the traditional academic calendar and gives at-risk juniors a "nudge to stay on track," says Kelly. UNC Asheville is a "test case" to see how the System can better leverage the full academic calendar to help students across the four-year finish line, he adds.
UNC Asheville isn't the only institution experimenting with the traditional academic calendar to boost their four-year graduation rate.
Western Carolina University is planning to offer 70 scholarships to matriculating low-income students or to those who have not yet earned 30 credits to attend up to eight credit hours' worth of summer courses, Bird writes.
Similarly, Temple University, is experimenting with accelerated courses in their Fly in 4 graduation guarantee campaign. Temple divided its traditional semesters into two seven-week "parts of term" and added more gateway course offerings in the summer to ensure students complete 30 credit hours per year (Bird, Inside Higher Ed, 3/8).
Keep reading: How Temple University transforms early course withdrawal into a timely catch-up opportunity
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