Below is a guest blog by Mrs. Sheila Caldwell, Director for Complete College Georgia at the University of North Georgia. Mrs. Caldwell currently serves as a member of  GCO’s College & Career Pathways working group.

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In a recent poll of high school seniors asking how many credit hours per semester they should take when they go to college; more than 50 percent indicated 12 hours as an ideal college course load. Though 12 hours is a full-time course load, it is impossible for a student to earn a bachelor’s degree within four years unless a student takes an additional six hours during the summer. The primary route to earning a bachelor’s degree within four years is to successfully complete 15 credit hours per semester, for a total of 30 credit hours annually.

To improve college graduation rates and encourage on-time completion, the state of Georgia has launched 15 to Finish, a proven advisement, retention, progression, and graduation initiative that encourages students to take 15 credits per semester, thereby spending less time and money to earn a degree. The goal of Complete College Georgia and 15 to Finish is to provide better information and educate all students on tuition and fees, graduation rates, and job opportunities to ensure successful college completion.

The 15 to Finish initiative is important because many students express a desire to graduate within four years. Colleges are referred to as either four-year or two-year institutions, but most students are taking longer to graduate. In fact, if 100 students entered college today in the state of Georgia, only 11 students would graduate on time at a four-year college and only five would graduate on time at a two-year college (Complete College America, 2011). Full time-students are taking an average of five years to earn a bachelor’s degree and four years to earn an associate degree (Complete College Georgia, 2011). Many students are unaware of the potential consequences that can result from taking fewer credit hours, including a higher likelihood of non-completion, lost wages, and increased college costs.

A cost analysis conducted by the University System of Georgia seeking to determine how much a student would pay for a degree based on the number of credit hours taken per semester revealed staggering results. For example, a student enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program at the University of North Georgia (UNG) would pay an average of $42,236 to earn a degree by completing only three credit hours per semester compared to $26,768 if completing 15 hours per semester– nearly $15,000 in savings for a UNG student who graduates on time. The study found the cost difference is even more drastic for students who wish to attend Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia (UGA). The chart below illustrates an additional expense of $74,000 for Georgia Tech and $90,000 for UGA for students taking only 3 hours per semester.



GA Tech


















15 to finish graph

Not only do students reap significant financial benefits when they enroll in 15 hours every semester until degree completion, they also experience quicker entry and higher wages when they transition into the workforce. Students graduating from UNG with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $20,000 more annually than their high school counterparts. A college student who graduates within four years with a bachelor’s degree earns $40,000 more in income than a college student who takes six years to graduate. Additionally, associate degree holders who graduate within 2 years earns $19,000 more than associate degree holders who take four years to graduate (Education Pays, 2013). Many part-time students do not consider the enormous amount of money foregone in the workforce when they delay college completion by one or two years.

Part-time students pay more for their degree and incur lost wages because they lack a college credential. They also jeopardize their entire college career. According to “Time is the Enemy” (CCA, 2011), only 15% of part-time students will earn a bachelor’s degree within six years compared to 57% of full-time students. Only 7.8% of associate degree seekers will earn a degree within four years. The 15 to Finish initiative seeks to battle dismal college completion rates.

College completion not only enhances an individual’s economic well-being, it can improve overall quality of life in the following ways: longer life spans, better access to health care, more prestigious employment and greater job satisfaction, less dependency on government assistance, greater participation in leisure, civic, and artistic activities, and more self- confidence (Education Pays, 2013).

Serving as a member of the College and Career Pathways working group, the Complete College Georgia (CCG) 15 to Finish initiative is perfectly aligned with recent discussions among the panel. The primary goals of the working group are to develop and promote programs that encourage at-risk youth to graduate high school and attain college and career success. GCO and CCG collaborate to help all students better prepare, connect to, and navigate college. Our ultimate aim is to enable greater mobility and opportunity among Georgia citizens.


Sheila Caldwell aims to help students successfully access and complete college at University of North Georgia. She is passionate about opportunity over charity and strives diligently to be a change agent for economically disadvantaged students across the state of Georgia.

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