State program urges full-time students to take 15 hours a semester

A new Missouri program aims to help students graduate “on time” by encouraging them to take at least 15 credit hours a semester.

15-to-finish-logoThe 15 to Finish initiative was launched Oct. 12 at a meeting in Springfield. Melissa Renfrow, FOCUS program director, represented Metropolitan Community College.

When full-time college students take at least 15 hours, instead of the minimum 12, it’s more likely they’ll complete an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four.

Fewer than one-third of college students in Missouri earn an average of 15 credit hours per semester, making it impossible in most cases for students to graduate on time. As a result, many students need an extra year or more of courses to graduate.

MCC’s Renfrow was happy to see many of Missouri’s community colleges represented at the kickoff event.

“I was thrilled that the conference presented data for both two-year and four-year colleges, and provided opportunities to discuss the challenges unique to community colleges that want to implement the 15 to Finish initiative,” Renfrow says.

An associate degree typically requires at least 60 credit hours. Students who take 12 hours per semester over four semesters end up with just 48 hours, meaning they’ll have to take the remaining 12 credit hours in summer sessions to graduate in two years.

“Taking 15 hours each semester, fall and spring, puts the student on a much better track to complete their degree in the two-year time frame,” says Terrell Tigner, associate dean of student development at MCC-Penn Valley.

Additional time in the classroom can come at a steep price, higher education officials say. An extra year at a four-year university can cost students more than $68,000 in tuition, fees, room and board, and wages they would have earned if they had graduated and joined the workforce, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit organization working to increase college completion in the United States.

“In many cases, students need to take just one more three-hour course every semester to graduate on time,” says Zora Mulligan, Missouri commissioner of higher education. “By completing 15 hours of college credit each semester, students can graduate earlier, enter the workforce sooner and save thousands of dollars in education expenses.”

Graduating on time also can help reduce student loan debt. Fewer students will have to borrow money to pay the additional expenses associated with an extra year or more in school.

Higher education officials say many students have become accustomed to taking 12 hours each semester, because that’s the minimum required to receive federal financial aid. As a result, 12 hours has been considered full-time attendance.

Legislation signed into law in June established the 15 to Finish Act, which calls for the Missouri Department of Higher Education to develop policies to promote the on-time completion of degree programs.

More than 100 officials from colleges and universities across the state attended the 15 to Finish event at Missouri State University to learn more about the program.

For more information, visit dhe.mo.gov/initiatives/fifteentofinish.php.