The Number of Credits Counts: Understanding the Path to Degree Completion

March 25, 2024

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Title: 2024 Benchmark Report: Analysis of the Relationship Between Scheduling Effectiveness, Student Progress, and Completion

Source: Ad Astra

To understand the relationship between students’ academic degree progress, retention, and completion, Ad Astra analyzed the academic journeys of 1.3 million students across two-year public, four-year public, and four-year private institutions. Its 2024 Benchmark Report identifies a correlation between the number of credits a student completes in a year and their likelihood of persisting and completing a degree.

Key findings and recommendations include:

  • When students complete 11 or fewer credits per year, the probability of graduating is only 7 percent. Those completing 18-23 credit hours per year are twice as likely to persist and seven times more likely to graduate. Institutions should prioritize strategies to incrementally boost small increases in course enrollment, advancing students along their academic paths.
  • Fifty-seven percent of degree-seeking students cannot complete their degrees without a major detour in their academic journeys. Root causes include inadequate scheduling practices—colleges’ failure in providing data-informed scheduling with predictable flexibility—and prime-time compression—faculty are increasingly teaching courses at overlapping times.
  • The report underscores the urgent need for institutions to reassess scheduling flexibility, analyzing course distribution by modality, location, time of day, and term duration. This analysis should inform tailored strategies to support clear completion paths. For instance, Odessa College’s shift to shorter academic terms, from 16 to eight weeks, yielded a 13 percent increase in overall enrollment, 26 percent increase in full-time equivalent enrollment, and 100 percent growth in completion rates.
  • Over 40 percent of courses offered are underutilized, with only a third aligning with student demand. Over half of degree-seeking students pursue programs that constitute just 7 percent of an institution’s offerings. Thus, institutions should consider reducing unsustainable course choice, such as by eliminating lower-enrollment programs, and intentionally leveraging course sharing between academic programs to optimize resources.
  • Increasing a student’s course load by one per term correlates with a 17 percent rise in tuition revenue over their academic tenure. Emphasizing retention initiatives over recruitment efforts thus emerges as a strategic imperative for revenue growth.

Click here to read the full report.

—Nguyen DH Nguyen


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