Editorial: Utah Regents right to encourage '15 to Finish'
It's not a new refrain, but the tune is a bit more upbeat. Accompanied by a new musical video, the Utah Board of Regents is encouraging college students to finish bachelor's degree requirements in four years and associate degrees in two years.
"Every year of college is expensive," the video admits. "But on average, if you take 15 credits every semester, you'll have an associate degree in two years or a bachelor's degree in four years."
"Don't let expenses drag on for years. Go out in the world. Use your degree. Get a great job. Earn more money."
It's good advice, and, given Utah's 43 percent average graduation rate for higher education, it's a bit of advice that students should heed.
The clincher for the "15 to Finish" initiative is that there is no additional tuition cost for 15 semester credits as compared to the commonly considered "full-time" load of 12 credit hours. Depending on the institution, colleges and universities don't increase tuition per credit until a student reaches 18 or 20 semester credits.
So, taking 15 credit hours each semester saves money by helping a student finish one to two years earlier, at no additional per-semester tuition cost.
However, students can make obvious and justifiable arguments against taking a heavier load. The cost in books and supplies would be higher each semester (although not for the total four-year period). And many students feel a 12-credit load is all they can handle while holding down full- or part-time jobs.
Utah college students, on average, get married and start families younger, and they say working while attending classes is necessary.
But the Regents counter those arguments by pointing out the long-term benefits of hitting the books hard for two or four years, earning a degree and getting a boost in the job market with saleable skills and academic initials after their names.
Workers with bachelor's degrees earn an average $46,351 per year, while those with an associate degree earn an average yearly salary of $36,575, and high-school graduates earn just $28,772 per year on average. Plus, spending one fewer year in college and one more year earning a salary means many thousands more in lifetime earnings.
The regents have more good ideas, as well: encouraging institutions to create "graduation maps" outlining what courses students should take each semester to stay on track for a degree in any field and consider "reverse transfer," in which students are awarded associate degrees when they complete requirements, even if they have transferred from a two-year program to a university. They also want students to complete math requirements earlier.
More Utahns with degrees means better lives for them and a better economy for the state.