15 to Finish campaign seeks on-time college degree completion


By Jacie Shoaf

INDIANAPOLIS – State higher education officials are trying to help students graduate from college in four years with a campaign urging them to take enough credits every semester.

“Indiana’s ‘15 to Finish’ campaign will drive home the importance of students completing at least 15 credit hours per semester in order to stay on track to graduate on time and minimize college debt,” said Ali Curtis, communications and media relations manager for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

“Indiana’s higher education system must continue to make strides in becoming more student-centered, but students must do their part as well by making smarter choices and taking advantage of the resources and supports provided to them,” she said.

The “15 to Finish” campaign is aimed at all college students, but especially at individuals who meet the criteria for the state’s 21st Century Scholarship and are eligible to attend Indiana institutions of higher education for free.

Indiana law now mandates that 21st Century Scholars take 15 credit hours per semester or 30 credit hours during a full school year. If a student chooses to only take 12 hours during a fall semester, he or she can only earn a partial scholarship. If the student then takes 18 credit hours in the spring, thereby earning the total of 30 credit hours for the year, he or she can once again be eligible for a full scholarship. There are no scholarships for summer classes.

“Because the state has such an investment in the 21st Century Scholars, they decided to make the policy for them,” said Kevin Corcoran, strategy director for the Lumina Foundation, a private organization that focuses on helping Americans achieve success in higher education.

Corcoran said that 21st Century Scholars are the only students required to pay attention to the campaign but he said it’s “aimed broadly at all students.”

About a third of Hoosier college students working towards bachelor’s degrees finish their classes on time. About half finish in six years. Of Hoosier students earning their associate’s degrees, only 4 percent finish on time and 12 percent finish in three years.

Furthermore, the “15 to Finish” campaign encourages institutions to only require 120 credit hours for a bachelor’s degree, unless accreditation or licensure is otherwise required.

The idea for “15 to Finish” developed when several students were taking only a few credit hours each semester, prolonging their education and draining the budget for the 21st Century Scholarship. The campaign in still in the process of being launched, and it was presented to several universities on Sept. 19.

“15 to Finish is really designed to get students to pay attention to the math of how many credit hours they need to graduate,” said Corcoran.

“Time is money,” Corcoran said, advising students that if “you don’t take 15, you’re paying a lot more for the 12 you are taking.”

Additionally, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has completed a recent study called “Pathways to Student Success: Perspectives from Indiana College Students & Advisors.” It includes a series of practices that help students and their advisors create four-year degree maps so that the students complete all of their degree requirements in a timely manner.

The commission has called for more thorough four-year planning after it realized that several students were taking classes they didn’t know weren’t required for their degrees.

“Indiana students often experience college as a maze rather  than as path to            success, and many finish with debt and no degree,” said       Higher Education Commission Teresa Lubbers. “With clear degree maps, proactive advising and related strategies, we can empower students to make better decisions, save time and money, and increase their likelihood of earning a degree.”