15 to Finish: Working students struggle to fulfill four year graduation push

Paola Marizan

Senior kinesiology major Carlos Clay said he wishes he would have taken fifteen credit hours every semester.

“I took 15 (credit hours) freshman year – the whole year,” he said. “Sophomore, junior year, I just took off and (was) on 12 and 13.”

Clay is taking 18 credit hours this semester and has to take 16 in the spring in order graduate in four years.

“I’m trying to catch up to get out,” Clay said.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education launched “15 to Finish,” a campaign to prevent situations like Clay’s from happening.

Nine universities in Indiana, including USI, adopted the new campaign, which aims to save students money according to its website.

Clay, who said the 15 to Finish campaign is a good idea, said he wishes he had known this information his freshman year.

“I don’t think it’s too much of an overload (taking 15 credit hours) at that constant pace all throughout college,” Clay said. “But again, it just depends on the individual.”

He said he would perform better taking 15 credit hours instead of 18. Working students can take 15 credit hours and handle it, he said.

Keith Powers, the Pott College Advising and Research Center director, said this one-size-fits-all-approach may not work for students who are working, but it’s an ideal the university encouraged before the campaign started.

“Many things come up in students’ lives and they’re not always able to complete those (15 credit hours), especially those working 20 or 30 hours a week,” Powers said.

Powers suggests alternative options to students, like summer classes or taking the minimum 12 hours to be eligible for financial aid.

Advisers are held accountable by the university to help students stay on track by using a four-year-plan, which Powers likens to a “map.”

“They can see what courses they will need each semester so they can make pre-requisites and go on to higher level courses,” Powers said.

He said this will help students identify what courses balance their schedules to avoid taking too many “heavy” classes.

This doesn’t mean more work for the advisers, though, Powers said.

“I think most advisers are trying to make sure students are taking the manageable number of hours and progressing through their program at a timely manner,” he said.

Freshman economics major Gloria Sengwe is taking 16 credit hours and working.

It’s not easy, she said.

“For me, it’s like the sword is hitting me with both sides because first is the transition from coming from an African country and trying to settle in a developed American country, and at the same time, it’s the transition from high school to college,” Sengwe said.

Sengwe plans to stay at USI until she earns her Bachelor’s degree, but has to try to balance her time, she said.

“Maybe it’s OK for someone to take 15 credits every other semester, but not the first freshman year. I don’t think it’s OK because even American students are still trying to adapt to the college system (from high school),” Sengwe said.

She said “15 to Finish” should take into consideration different kinds of students and offer a variety of options.

“Put yourself in the students’ position,” Sengwe said, addressing Higher Education. “Don’t think everyone is smart like you. We have all kinds of students. Smart students, average ones and people who learn in a very slow pace.”

She said if a student can manage 15 or more credit hours, they should do it. But for those who feel pressured, there should be more options.

Associate Commissioner for Higher Education Mary Jane Michalak said the research conducted by the University of Hawaii from the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2011 shows that students can pay up to an additional $50,000 for a fifth year of college.

“This is when you factor in additional tuition and fees and loss of wages,” Michalak said.

Michalak said USI may cost less per year than other institutions, but paying for transportation, books and food could make the amount higher.

She said the Indiana Commission for Higher Education launched the program last September and the research conducted was explained to institutions and personnel who are directly involved with students.

“What their (University of Hawaii) system found was that students who enroll in 15 credit hours actually do better academically. They end up getting higher grade point averages,” Michalak said.

She said this may contradict what people may have thought.

15 credit hours versus 12 credit hours shows a difference in student performance, she said.

“We know that many times students take fewer credit hours because they’re concerned about the amount of time they will have to dedicate to each class,” Michalak said. “But actually research has shown, regardless of their background, if they enroll in 15 credit hours, they academically do better.”

The decision should be made by the student with the help of an academic adviser to determine what would be best, she said.

The research conducted includes classified first-time freshmen only, the website explains.

First‐time freshmen at each campus (University of Hawaii – Mānoa, UH – Hilo and UH‐West O‘ahu) were divided into two populations: students who took fewer than 15 credit hours and students who took 15 or more credit hours during their initial fall semester.

Student characteristic measures were organized into three groups: Academic Preparation, Demographics and Academic Success.

Other States like Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Texas and Tennessee have also launched either a similar approach or adopted the “15 to Finish” campaign.

Associate Commissioner for Policy and Legislation Sarah Ancel said the campaign is centered around student success.

“The key messages are that one: full-time is 15 credits if you want to graduate on-time; two: be sure to take the right 15 by visiting an adviser and using a degree map; and three: it pays to take 15 because each additional year of college can cost $50,000 or more in tuition,” Ancel said.

She said while the savings are certainly one consideration, Higher Education is promoting the campaign because it knows that students perform better and are more likely to graduate if they take 15 credit hours per semester.