NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – According to figures from Complete College America, if 100 students entered college today in Tennessee, only 17 would graduate on time at a four-year college. Now some of the nation’s top universities and colleges across the country, including Tennessee State University, are prodding lingering students toward the graduation stage to push them to finish their degrees in four years.
It’s a move that aims to change the culture that completing a degree in four years is the exception and not the norm.
Enter the ‘Take 15” program at TSU that encourages students to take enough credits to ensure on-time completion of their degrees. Launched in the fall of 2013 for full-time first-year students, the program has seen an increase of students opting to take at least 15 credits per semester to stay on track to receive their degree in four years.
According to TSU President Glenda Glover, University officials are taking steps to entice students to take at least 15 credit hours per semester and have a plan to complete their degree in the shortest amount of time possible.
“Often times full-time students fail to take enough credits to ensure on-time completion of their degrees,” said Glover. “Students regularly and often unknowingly choose credit loads that put them on five or six-year plans. Through this initiative we are getting the word out that on-time graduation is much more likely when students ‘Take 15’ to finish.”
While there could be many reasons why many students fall into the five or six-year degree trap, most students, according to Dr. John Cade, interim vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Support Services, enter college with a four-year plan, but changing or adding majors, retaking classes or taking time off for personal reasons can quickly extend that plan.
“While getting the most out of a college experience is important, taking additional semesters to earn that degree often means paying more in tuition and fees,” Cade said. “We’ve also seen that at times, the longer it takes students to graduate, the less likely they are to complete a degree.”
Since the initiative first rolled out in fall of 2013, officials at the University have seen an increase in students opting to go the 15-credit route. At that time, 41 percent of undergraduates, or 2,829 of the 6,749 students enrolled at the University, registered for 15 credits or more compared to the previous fall when only 31 percent registered. In just one short year, 35 percent more students were heeding the administration’s awareness initiative to ‘Take 15.’
“These are encouraging numbers,” added Cade. “As we build awareness we expect to see these numbers increase. We are promoting ‘Take 15’ because we are finding students are getting better grades, they are more focused and using their time more efficiently.”
Thommye’ Davis, a senior History major, is one of those students who is taking advantage of the initiative, and came to the University with the mindset of completing her degree in four years.
“I’ve been taking 15 credit hours since my freshman year of college,” said the Nashville, Tenn., native, who plans on teaching in the Nashville Metro School system after graduation. “If I wanted to finish in four years I knew that taking 15 credit hours would be the only way I could accomplish my goal.”
In addition to graduating in four years, studies show that students taking 15 or more credit hours tend to have higher grade point averages than those taking less. In fact, at TSU, students taking 15 or more credits averaged a GPA of 3.17 compared to students taking less.
Another reason for the push, Cade added, was the fact that earning a degree in four years is a lot cheaper than earning one in five or six. Students who complete their undergraduate degree in four years instead of six years can save close to $7,000 for in-state tuition or $19,000 for out-of-state students per year.
“The cost of college is high and students often times have to work to help pay the cost of tuition,” said Cade. “That is another advantage to completing a degree in four years. Students who elect to pursue completing their degree in five years incur a year of costs, plus loose a year of potential wages and on-the-job experience.”
The initiative also takes in account the fact that states are not expanding extra resources on higher education. With the passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, the state has defined a clear set of directives to address the need for more Tennesseans to be better educated at a time when the state’s fiscal capacity to fund higher education has diminished dramatically.
Considered a national model for increasing the number and quality of college graduates, the CCTA recognized that in the past few years, public universities and colleges have lost a large portion of their state operating revenues. It also established a direct link between the state’s economic development and its educational system.
“We are in the same situation as many colleges and universities across the nation with states significantly cutting spending to education. These cuts and outcome-based funding are the primary drivers of tuition increases,” said Cade. “There is a demand for growth in education in Tennessee and across the country, and through the ‘Take 15’ initiative. We can make sure our students are prepared quicker and with less debt ready to enter the workforce.”
To learn more about the “Take 15” initiative, contact the Advisement Center at 615.963.5531.
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With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.