States experiment with completion incentives that encourage students to take more credits

It’s widely accepted that students who consistently take more credits are more likely to graduate on time, but states are still searching for the best way to encourage full course loads, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Tying incentives to full course loads

A number of states are focusing on financial rewards, pointing to results showing that students are more likely to pursue a full-time course load if they have a monetary incentive to do so.

Indiana’s 15 to Finish initiative, for example, requires students to take at least 30 credits a year (15 per semester) to keep their state aid package. Indiana’s financial aid policy was found to be effective in increasing the credit-hour completion.

Penalizing students for not taking enough credits, however, has met resistance in some states, like Tennessee, whose legislators earlier this year rejected a bill that would have would have taken up to $500 away from students in the state’s free community college program and state lottery scholarship program if they failed to finish 30 credit hours during the year.

“We’re all about completion, but, we want to do it in a way that incentivizes students in a positive way and gives credit to students taking rigorous coursework,” said Claude Presnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. Presnell believes that giving students extra funding to take additional courses in the summer would be more effective.

Proponents laud size of California incentive, but critics question its reach

California’s recently passed budget, meanwhile, includes one of the nation’s largest completion incentives. The Student Success Completion Grant provides certain qualified community college students with access to a grant of up to $4,000 a year if they take at least 15 credits each semester and qualify for one of two types of CalGrants, the state’s financial aid award.

Most of California’s community college students don’t currently attend school full-time—just 8 percent currently take 15 or more credits, and 21 percent take 12-14 credits—often because they have to work. The grant aims to do away with students’ need to work part-time to pay for school, according to Inside Higher Ed.

While acknowledging the link between full-time status and degree completion, Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, pointed out that the completion incentives will impact only “a very limited percentage of the [community college] population.” “If you say the community college is open to the community, then you have to figure out the strategies to meet people where they’re at. We’re not going to get people in an older demographic—the [25-year-old plus]—to go full-time,” he said.

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