By Lori Dresner, Managing/News Editor
Two weeks ago, an initiative called the “15 to Finish” Act was launched in Missouri. The act encourages college students to take 15 credit hours per semester so that they can graduate on time, incur less debt, and enter the workforce faster. Ideally, it will also increase college completion rates.
Alan Byrd, Dean of Enrollment at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said that for the past five years, UMSL has already undertaken the initiative to get students to take 15 credit hours per semester. However, “15 to Finish” will now give UMSL more momentum to figure out further ways to make 15 credit hours more accessible to students.
“It’s impossible for everyone to graduate in four [years], but the key is to get students who can graduate in four to finish in four,” explained Byrd.
According to Complete College America (CCA) data, the average university student who spends an extra year in college racks up more than $68,000 in tuition, fees, room and board, and lost wages. At community college, students spend around $50,000 if they stay an extra year. Less than a third of Missouri public college students take 15 credit hours per semester, according to the CCA, which is the minimum students need to take to be considered “on time” to graduate.
Although the aforementioned statistics are self-explanatory for why “15 to Finish” is being introduced, I think that it is imperative that UMSL continues to remain cognizant of their student body when encouraging students to take 15 credit hours. UMSL differs from many other universities in the St. Louis area because a large portion of the students on this campus are commuters who have families and work obligations in addition to school. Many of the nontraditional students who attend UMSL may not be able to adjust to large course loads.
As Byrd explained, a cultural shift has precipitated the decline in credit hours that students take. Twenty years ago, it was normal for students to take 15, 18, or even 21 credit hours per semester in college. Now, with the rising cost of higher education, more and more students have to work in order to pay their way through school and do not have the time or money to take large course loads.
The types of courses a student is taking needs to be considered as well. Students who are taking writing intensive classes or ones that might require extra hours in the lab may overwhelm themselves if they take an extra class, which could result in them having to drop or retake classes. This could be counterintuitive to the objective of this initiative.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that taking 15 credit hours in comparison to 12 hours can mean a much larger workload than one might think, depending on the type of classes being taken. Having taken 15 credit hours my first semester at UMSL, I found myself barely able to keep my head above water and was faced with some doubt about my academic future.
With all of this said, I do have faith that “15 to Finish” can be a practical initiative as long as UMSL keeps in perspective students’ individual situations when helping them decide when 15 credit hours is a good fit. It is really all about finding the right balance for each individual student and their specific situation.
Byrd pointed out that students who cannot take 15 credit hours during the regular academic year can use the summer semester to make up for the hours needed to stay at 30 credit hours a year. Since scholarships and financial aid are generally not available during the summer semester, the Triton Summer Scholarship can help students receive funding for the summer courses they take.
As with anything, I do not see the “15 to Finish” Act being a one-size-fits-all plan on UMSL’s campus. But as long as the university continues to consider their students’ needs on a case by-case basis and remains mindful of the type of students who attend this school, I think that the “15 to Finish” initiative could bring positive change to UMSL and save students time and money in the long run.