Creating incentives for enrolling in 15 hours a term
Tennessee Promise requires that students enroll in fifteen hours a term in return for free tuition. I've heard rumors that after Promise's initial fall semester, a surprisingly high number of students found themselves in academic difficulty--and the assumption was that poorly prepared students struggled with the higher class load. Don't know if it's true or not, but it intuitively feels right.
Tennessee Promise was designed to increase participation in higher education, to encourage students who thought higher education was beyond their means to attend community colleges. Accordingly, these students may not have taken the best courses to prepare them for higher education. Once Promise in operation for a while, this may correct itself as students have a longer time to prepare. In theory, of course, taking fifteen hours a term should increase completion. Just add some grit. This areticle from The Atlantic highlights some initiatives to encourage students to take fifteen hours. And to think, back in the day, I took some courses just for fun...
Universities and colleges in 22 states are now trying some variation of the 15-to-Finish idea, including Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. Kentucky and Nevada have launched marketing campaigns explaining the idea to students; Hawaii promotes 15-to-Finish—a name now in the process of being trademarked— in TV commercials and other ads.
“The first part is telling students what they need to know,” said Johnson of Complete College America. “We recognize that not every student can take 15 credits, but we do think there’s utility in telling students what happens if you choose not to.”
South Dakota, the Montana University System, and several institutions in Georgia and Indiana have changed their tuition policies so 15 credits per semester—and, in some cases, up to 18—costs the same as 12; Indiana University will do that starting in the fall, joining Purdue, Ball State, and Indiana State. To encourage students to catch up in the summers, IUPUI gives Indiana residents a 25 percent discount on summer courses. The University of Hawaii offers free textbooks to students in random drawings open only to students in the 15-to-Finish program.
South Dakota also has added a scholarship for students who complete 30 credits per academic year. Under its Fly in 4 campaign, Temple University pays students up to $2,000 if they agree to work no more than 15 hours a week and pledge to follow a series of directions meant to help them finish in four years; if they still can’t, the university promises to cover the cost of the additional time they need. And a program in Texas called B-on-Time offers complete forgiveness of loans issued by the state to undergraduates who complete their bachelor’s degrees in four years with at least a B average—though that program is being phased out because fewer students used it than projected.
Not everyone benefits equally from this push. IUPUI has found the students who take at least 15 credits per semester tend to be wealthier, have fewer outside commitments, and are more academically prepared than those who take 12, and are more likely to be female and live on campus.
Some critics of the emphasis on speed also contend that college is a time when students should be able to find themselves, which may mean slowing down.
Dickson agreed—to a point. “That’s what college is about,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that students should be doing it for six or seven years.”