15 by flickr user Theen Moy (cc license)“15” by flickr user Theen Moy (cc license)

What’s your student’s magic number for graduation? Hint: it’s probably not the same as “full-time” status.

In Major League Baseball, commentators often refer to a team’s magic number. In this context, a magic number is the total number of wins by that team or losses by their closest competitor required for a team to clinch a playoff spot.

When it comes to college, students have a magic number, too. Each school requires a certain number of credits to graduate. For semester-length classes, this number is often 120. 120 credits translates to 15 credit hours each semester for four years.

You may notice, however, that when your student is in college they only need to take 12 credit hours to classify as full-time. Full-time, therefore, does not necessarily mean sufficient number of credit hours to graduated ‘on time.’ In fact, 12 hours a semester means graduating in five full years, not four.

This can be a problem. First of all, research shows that the greater the number of completed credits in a first year of school correlates with a higher level of persistence to graduation. In addition, as parents and students seek to maintain full-time status, they may confuse full-time with a 4-year graduation. Not realizing this error can be annoying and financially costly.

West Virginia is trying to change this mistake. They are about to implement ’15 to Finish,’ which is a program aimed at encouraging students to sign up for that extra class each semester. By doing so, they can graduate earlier and incur less debt.

This is not the first such program. University of Hawaii did something similar. “A statewide campaign there — including advertising, on-campus messaging and community outreach — increased the number of students taking 15 hours per semester by more than 17 percent in one year. Students who took more hours also performed better academically.

According to West Virginia’s Higer Education Policy Commission, 15 other states are also looking to implement something like University of Hawaii’s approach. So, don’t be surprised if you see this coming to a campus near you. But, in the meantime, remember to calculate your student’s magic number and to do what you can to help keep them on track to a 4-year graduation.

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