With new campaign, university aims for higher four-year graduation rate graduation rate

Sarah King
Contributing Writer

Students can expect to see a new slogan making campus-wide appearances alongside the “Make it Real” mantra in the next week or two.

The new slogan, “15-in-4”, is a campaign designated to push students to take at least 15 credits per semester so they can graduate in four years, a rate the US News and World Report listed at 30 percent.

“The focus is really to encourage students, the faculty, the staff, the overall VCU culture that students need to take 15 credits to graduate in four years,” said Luke Schultheis, vice provost of strategic enrollment. “Benefits include entering grad school and career field when you want and frankly it’s financially the most lucrative option.”

“This should also help students manage their debt, as the cost of attendance for four years is much lower than six.  The students’ debt load should go down significantly as well as graduation rates escalating—all in all, lots of very positive measures,” he added.

The campaign itself is going to make an obvious appearance on and off campus through with the use of of buttons, posters, web presence and materials sent home to families. The slogan is also set to appear on buses around campus.

“We’d really like everyone to think in those terms—from the people helping you get your food in Shafer, to faculty, to your peers—anything for students to get the credits they need to graduate,” Schultheis said.

Although the “15-in-4” slogan has not officially made its public debut, some freshmen seem to have already noticed the initiative.

“I definitely noticed the school pushing for students to take more than the required 12 credits to obtain full-time status right off the bat,” said freshman Abel Henok.  “I obviously didn’t know about the campaign, but it was pretty obvious that the faculty was really intent on having kids graduate in four years.  It was a point that they stressed a lot before school even started.”

Ahead of the campaign’s official launch, more students have enrolled in 15 or more credits.  The 2013 fall semester is the first time the university has promoted this effort and according to Schultheis, 73 percent of freshmen are enrolled in 15 credit hours this semester, compared to 60 percent last fall.

“Deans are making efforts to open up new classes and advisors have been all over it, it’s been an institutional effort, really,” Schultheis said. “We want it to be everywhere you turn, ‘15-in-4’ being thrown at you in tandem with ‘Make it Real.’”

Some students said they agreed with Schultheis on the importance of taking more credits.

“I think the idea of 15-in-4 is a nice guideline for students who may be unsure about the breakdown of their required credits,” said Shannon Riley, a sophomore advertising major. “I started at VCU with 10 credits but I still try to take 15 a semester so that I have some leeway for semesters that I may want to dial it back a little.”

Aside from the campaign itself, the university is implementing new support systems for students to increase their chances of succeeding this spring.

Students will begin using a new class registration system called “College Scheduler.” The program will allow students to insert what times and dates they do and do not want to take classes and the computer system will generate a series of different schedule options and combinations.

“I think this is an awesome initiative brought on by the school,” Henok said. “I know how hard it is to balance school work and a job and this means that the possibility of maintaining more consistency between fall and spring semesters is actually an option.”

The second initiative is a student service predictive model that will focus on the collaboration between students and the educational advisory board to track student progress.  The last tool is financial literacy counseling through a non-profit organization, $ALT, which will offer students web and personal-based guidance on their financial situation.  The counseling service will continue three years post-graduation to help manage loan payments.

“Student life is going to be completely different by the onset of these programs,” Schultheis said. “Students will be exposed to options that they may not have even thought possible before in regard to scheduling, making things affordable, and making it real affordably.”

With the approximate 4 percent tuition increase that took place at the start of this semester, new students will pay on a per-credit basis up to 14 credits. Each credit after that is 50 percent cheaper.  Returning students will continue to pay one price for a block of 12 to 18 credits and then overload pricing for enrolling in 19 credits or more.

 

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