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June 22, 2017

How MSU is helping students graduate on time and save money

Michigan State University will start encouraging students to carry full credit loads to graduate more quickly, cut their costs and even earn better grades.

Michigan State’s new “Go Green, Go 15” campaign urges students take an average of 15 credits per semester or complete 30 credits in their first year of study by taking summer classes. The share of students who carry a full credit load has steadily declined over the last decade. For the 2016 freshman cohort, 82.6 percent of students took less than 30 credit their first two semesters. The Go Green, Go 15 campaign is directed at reversing this trend.

Other universities have found early momentum yields higher graduation rates, less time and cost to attain a degree and higher grade-point averages. MSU’s own researchers analyzed 16 years of student data and found similar correlations: 

  • Students who attempted 15 or more credits in their first fall, spring and summer semesters recorded six-year graduation rates of nearly 88 percent. That compares to MSU’s current 78 percent graduation rate, which is already nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average for public universities.
  • Those taking only 12 credits during their first year had a 2.5 average GPA, while those taking a minimum of 15 credits had a 3.1 average GPA.
  • Students who took 15 or more credits were less likely to re-take classes.

The correlation between higher credit momentum and academic success in the MSU data holds true for students regardless of their academic background, first-generation status, family financial situation, race, ethnicity or gender.

“The Go Green, Go 15 program encourages students to have a four-year completion discussion with their advisors,” said Sekhar Chivukula, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies. “Setting this pace early on sets a precedent and also allows students the flexibility to drop a course as needed, pursue internships, study abroad, service learning, undergraduate research, or work experience and still stay on track to graduate in a timely manner.”

Go Green, Go 15 is an important part of our MSU’s overall Student Success Initiative, which is focused on increasing the university’s overall graduation rate to 82 percent by 2020, and closing opportunity gaps for lower-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority student populations.

“While it may not be appropriate for every student to take an average of 15 credits per semester in the first year,” Chivukula said, “our goal is to help the students who are able to increase their credit momentum do so.”

In addition to associated academic success outcomes, the cost of a degree drops too, including: 

  • Living expenses and fees
  • Future tuition hikes
  • Student loan debt
  • Wages lost from finding a job later

“One might think if a student takes fewer courses and credits, they will spend more time on each, and therefore, do better, but this is not what the data show,” Chivukula said. “One hypothesis consistent with the data is that failing to encourage students to take 14 to 16 credit hours fosters a culture of low expectations. At MSU, we have high expectations and believe that every student we admit has the ability to succeed. Our job is to ensure every one of those students has an equal opportunity to do so.”

By: Kim Ward