“From fall of 2011 to fall of 2012, the university saw an overall increase of nearly 10 percent in our full-time undergraduate students seeking baccalaureate degrees who take 15 or more credits per semester,” said Saichi Oba, associate vice president for Student and Enrollment Services at the UA System. “This is a positive for our students, as research shows that full-time students who take at least 15 credits a semester or 30 credits in an academic year are more likely to graduate than students who take lighter course loads.”
Oba said in the past, too many full-time students seeking baccalaureate degrees at UA believed that 12 credits a semester was good enough. At that pace, a student would take a minimum of one extra year to earn the degree. Student achievement and attainment, one of five themes of UA’s Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative, centers on improving graduation rates for higher education in Alaska.
“Each extra year in school represents thousands of dollars in additional costs to students,” Oba said.
Reasons behind the upward trend are due to a combination of factors. One is increased funding for academic advising from the Alaska Legislature two years in a row, totaling $1.4 million. Each university within the UA System has put that money to good use in targeted areas specific to their campuses. The goal is to strengthen advising to students as early as possible, helping them plan out their academic path in a much more strategic manner than done in the past.
Secondly, the Alaska Performance Scholarship supported by Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature requires students from their sophomore year on to take 15 credits a semester. The scholarship also requires the students take a more rigorous curriculum in high school in order to qualify in the first place. These APS scholarship students are now poised to enter their third year at UA, which greatly influences the student body as a whole.
The university is working with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education to identify qualified scholarship recipients earlier than in the past two years, so that more students will take advantage of the scholarship than currently do.
In addition, the university has a number of initiatives designed to inform full-time students to take more control over their college education. This includes an awareness campaign called Stay on Track that emphasizes taking even one more class, seeking out good advising, considering the summer term and choosing a major as early as possible. The idea is to avoid students taking, and paying for, classes that won’t ultimately count toward a degree.