Fewer than half of college students graduate in four years, but there are ways to improve the odds.
It may sound counterintuitive, but freshmen college students who take a full load of reasonably demanding courses are more likely to graduate from college on time.
That’s part of the message Western Washington University has been conveying to its students in a campaign called “15 to Finish,” which encourages students to work hard from the outset.
Nationally, only about 40 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen graduate in four years with a bachelor’s degree; the rate is 59 percent after six years. Western’s graduation rate after four years is similar to the national average, but is better than 70 percent after six years.
Steven VanderStaay, the Western vice provost for undergraduate education, says he frequently talks to parents who have advised their incoming freshmen children to start with a light load — 12 credits — believing that will give them more time to study, build confidence and get a higher GPA.
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But when Western analyzed college grades for students who entered Western with similar GPAs and SAT scores, the university discovered that students who took a full load of classes, or 15 credits, got better grades than students with reduced loads.
How could that be? “If you have less time to manage, you manage your time better,” VanderStaay said. And starting out full-time also helps students get used to the college workload from the outset, he said.
It’s also cheaper, in the long run, to take a full load. Like the state’s other universities, Western charges a flat tuition rate — students who take 10 credits pay the same as students who take 18 credits. Students must earn 180 credits to graduate from college — or, 15 credits per quarter. Falling behind means having to take an extra quarter, or more, to finish out a degree.
Here are some more tips from VanderStaay:
• Talk to an adviser before signing up for classes. At many schools, including Western, advising isn’t mandatory. But Western’s research shows that students who use an adviser “do so much better than students who make…