Fifteen-to-Finish campaign wins fans, stokes worries

The Obama administration recently joined a campaign to encourage students to take at least 15 credits per semester, following several statewide higher education systems and a growing number of individual public colleges.

The idea behind the “15 to Finish” push is that students who take on course loads of that size or larger have more academic success and, not surprisingly, are more likely to earn a degree on time.

Many students assume that taking 12 credits per semester is enough for them to earn an associate degree in two years, or a bachelor’s degree in four years, said Dhanfu Elston, vice president for Complete College America, a nonprofit advocacy group that has played a prominent role in the campaign. That assumption is wrong, however, unless students take courses during the summer. For example, a 12-credit course load works out to 48 credits after two years — well short of a 60-credit associate degree. And some degree programs require more than 30 credits per year.

Low-income students who receive federal Pell Grants often cannot use that aid money for summer courses. And many grant recipients get the same amount of Pell money for 24 credits a year as they would for 30 credits.

The White House wants to change that, however. Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education proposed the restoration of the so-called year-round Pell, which would allow students to use the grants to help pay for summer courses. The Obama administration and the U.S. Congress eliminated that eligibility four years ago.

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