According to national data provided by Complete College America, only 4 to 5 percent of community college students nationwide complete in two years. Dr. Michael McCandless, vice president of Student Services, notices a similar trend with Merced College students.
“Local data correlates with national data in regard to student course-taking behavior. Students enrolling in fewer than 15 units per semester are completing their educational goals in 3-6 years; whereas, students enrolling in 15 units per semester, for a total of 30 units per year, are much more likely to complete in the preferred two-year window.
The 15 to Finish model is proven, effective, and great pathway for on-time student completion.”
15 to Finish is a national initiative designed to increase student educational goal completion. While the emphasis of the initiative is on-time goal completion, the data demonstrates that there is a correlation between units and success. In all success indicators (course success, retention, and grade point average), studies demonstrated that the higher the number of units students were registered the higher the levels of success.
A Merced College task force went to work in fall 2016 to determine the feasibility of the 15 to Finish initiative. This task force looked in depth at both national data, Merced College data, and proven practices. The task force met to discuss the 15 to Finish program and whether it would be a good fit for the campus. The taskforce forwarded several recommendations to the Vice President of Student Services.
“The 15 to Finish taskforce dispelled a popular myth regarding the initiative, namely, that student GPA suffers under the strain of increased course load.” McCandless said “This common assumption is, in fact, inaccurate as students enrolled in 15 or more units carry higher GPAs than the average GPA of students enrolled in 1-14 units.”
The data demonstrated that students who were enrolled in 15 units perform on average three tenths of a grade point higher than those registered for 12 units (the traditional marker for full-time enrollment).
As students enroll for the 2017 summer and fall semesters, Merced College counselors are encouraging them to follow the 15 to Finish path to success. Currently, only about 15 percent of students enroll in 15 units.
In most cases, if community college students enrolled in just one additional course per semester, they would be on track to graduate in two years. While skepticism has been expressed about the initiative in community colleges nationwide, once the program is promoted and students add an additional class, data clearly shows it works.
“Merced College understand and is supportive of all students, some students may have obstacles preventing embracing the 15 to Finish model,” McCandless said. “At the same time, we would like to challenge all students to reflect on their course-taking behavior and challenge themselves to stretch their limits. While taking 15 units may not be feasible for all students, setting completion goals needs to be a part of the planning process and a real consideration for each student when they begin their educational journey.”
There are long-term advantages to 15 to Finish as well. Moving students more quickly toward graduation helps students enter the work force earlier, often creating financial benefits such as longer careers which result in more retirement earnings.
“Merced College is excited to support the 15 to Finish initiative and begin the conversation with students. This model will challenge both students and the institution to provide clear pathways for success,” McCandless said.
Source: Merced College