The Missouri Department of Higher Education announced a new initiative Oct. 12 designed to increase the odds of students graduating in two years with an associate of arts degree from community colleges and a bachelor’s degree in four years if they attend a state university.
The “15 to Finish” initiative encourages all students to take a course load of 15 credit hours each semester as part of the program, according to State Fair Community College President Dr. JoAnna Anderson, who was in attendance at the launch of the program in Springfield last Wednesday.
Anderson, Dr. Brent Bates, vice president for educational student support services, and Dr. Amanda Herwatic, director of Student Success and Retention, were pleased with the status of SFCC’s students in the initiative.
“There are a number of components in the program,” Anderson said. “Fortunately we (SFCC) are already doing a number of these.
“The major portions of the initiative are to set completion goals, to develop action plans and to collect and report the common completion data,” she added. “Our Navigators program, which we began in 2014, has played a major role in seeing our students succeed toward graduation in two years.”
The Missouri Department of Education is working with a national nonprofit organization, Complete College America, to help colleges across the state with their degree programs.
The organization estimates that less than one-third of students in Missouri schools are taking 15 credit hours every semester, according to information provided by Anderson from the meeting.
“‘15 to Finish’ is one of the game changers of the larger Complete College America (CCA) initiative that is focused on significantly increasing the number of adults with college degrees and/or workplace credentials,” Anderson said. “Data shows that students who complete 30 credits in an academic year are significantly more likely to complete a college degree.
“The longer students are in college the less likely they are to finish,” she added. “So ‘15 to Finish’ is a good initiative and one I support.”
Anderson stated that high school dual-credit courses, summer classes and online courses can help students meet the goal of 30 credits in a year.
Twenty-nine percent of all students complete 30 credits per year; at two-year colleges the number drops to 14 percent.
“Students using the Missouri A+ scholarship are required to be enrolled full-time at a community college, which means taking a minimum of 12 credit hours a semester,” Anderson said. “However for these students, the ‘15 to Finish’ initiative makes great sense and can speed them toward a career or transfer degree in two years.”
CCA also reported that nearly 60 percent of students are taking 12 hours a semester, which is the minimum to receive financial aid.
“Completing an associate’s degree in two years is a great goal, but it can be challenging for those community college students who are working multiple jobs, raising families and dealing with life issues,” Anderson said. “Those are some of the reasons we implemented the Navigator Advising Program in October 2014.
“Navigators provide students with college success strategies, help them develop a road map to degree completion, connect students to college and community resources, and are there to give students care and support,” she added. “The Navigator Program has played a major role in helping SFCC make progress toward our big retention and graduation goals.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.