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15-to-Finish

Promoted by Complete College Georgia, 15 to Finish is a proven advisement, retention, progression, and graduation initiative which encourages students to take 15 credits per semester to graduate faster and spend less money on the undergraduate collegiate experience. The University System of Georgia seeks to create a system culture where taking 15+ credit hours each semester is the new normal for students enrolled in college in the state of Georgia.

15 to Finish is a Complete College Georgia initiative that emphasizes the fact that students need to take 15 (or more) credits per semester to finish degrees “on time.” “On time” means associate degrees are completed in two years and bachelor’s degrees are completed in four years. 

Degree completion is important because students with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn 84% more over a lifetime than students without bachelor’s degrees.  Students with “some college, no degree” do not enjoy this advantage and may have incurred substantial educational debt with little or no increased earning power.

“On-time” degree completion is important because the longer that students stay in college past the “on-time” deadline, the less likely they are to complete degrees.  The more time that passes the more opportunities there are for life events to get in the way of degree completion. Taking extra semesters to graduate also increases the cost to degree, largely because students pay fees every semester they attend, and those fees add up. Residential students also pay additional costs for room and board each extra semester. All students taking extra time to graduate are deferring the earnings they can expect in positions requiring a college degree.

Everyone in higher education knows that taking 12 credits a semester qualifies students as “full-time” for financial aid (and many other) purposes. What many people have lost track of is that students taking only 12 credits per semester cannot complete degrees on time. Students taking 12 credits per semester will take five (versus four) semesters to earn associate degrees and ten (versus eight) semesters to earn bachelor’s degrees.

Some students cannot be full-time students because they work full-time (or nearly so) or have family responsibilities. 15 to Finish does not target these part-time students, although part-time students should be made aware of the additional time and costs they incur in earning degrees.

15 to Finish targets students who are enrolled for 12 – 14 semester hours, and encourages them to sign up for 15 or more semester hours so that they can graduate sooner. Graduating sooner means that students can begin working and accumulating wealth earlier. Students who are on pace to graduate on time are also more likely to complete their degrees, and therefore to have more career opportunities, more competitive salaries, and better benefits and security. Earning a degree pays, and earning it sooner means making more money over a lifetime.

Advisors may be reluctant to advise students to take 15 credits a semester because they are concerned that grade point average will suffer. Although counter-intuitive, research shows that students taking 15 credits per semester typically have higher grade point averages than comparably-prepared students (at the same institutions) taking 12 credits per semester. This is probably because the increase in credit intensity leaves students with less time for major distractions from college work.

As the percentage of students attempting 15 or more credits per semester at Georgia Southwestern State University increased (from 17% in fall 2012 to 75% in fall 2015) the percentage of students with students with GPAs at or above 2.0 also increased (from 74% in fall 2012 to 80% in fall 2015).

For more success data, see this September 2003 data from the Univeristy of Hawaii system:

Hawaii Two-year Colleges [pdf]  Hawaii Four-year Colleges [pdf]

For USG students entering in fall 2011, only 2.0% of students seeking associate degrees completed those degrees (at any USG institution) in two years or less. By the end of three years 7.3% of the fall 2011 cohort had completed degrees, and after four years 11.4% had completed degrees.

For USG students entering in fall 2009, only 27.2% of students seeking bachelor’s degrees completed those degrees (at any USG institution) in four years or less (rates ranging from 5.7% at state colleges to 62.3% at the University of Georgia). By the end of five years 49.7% of the fall 2009 cohort had completed degrees, and after six years 57.7% had completed degrees.

15 to Finish can increase overall graduation rates and help students to graduate on time.

Encourage your students to take 15 To Finish!

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15 to Finish Campus Profiles