By Kayla Carr and Jacob Solis
When thousands of students descend upon MyNevada to fill up their schedules and enroll in classes for the upcoming fall semester, full-time students will have to consider more than just conflicting class times as 15 to Finish enters its third semester in the fall. The University of Nevada Reno program aims to get more undergraduates to graduate in four years.
The program incentivizes students to take 15 credits a semester by withholding institutional aid and university scholarships from those who abstain from the requested course load. After its inception in the summer of 2014, the program has been begrudgingly accepted by some students as a necessary evil.
In October 2014, the Associated Students of the University of Nevada passed a resolution in support of 15 to Finish, but many senators expressed dissatisfaction with the program. The most common sentiment among the student leaders was that it was simply too broad a solution to the complex problem of rapidly increasing time-to-graduation.
According to a 2014 report titled the Four-Year Myth from Complete College America, only 36 percent of full-time students at flagship universities graduated in four years. In essence, more students were staying in college for more time, creating a host of problems for both students and administrations.
However, it is still too soon to tell whether or not the program has had any success.
For students, the main draw of 15 to Finish is its ability to save money. It is irrefutable that being in school for less time allows a quicker entrance into the job market and the ability to start making money. In fact, numerous 15 to Finish advertisements tout the program’s ability to save undergraduates money by limiting their time in college to four years. Even so, some students remain skeptical of the program’s fiscal benefits.
Fifth-year senior Graham Collins has had the freedom to choose his own course load and is satisfied with his educational experience. Collins, who needed less than 30 credits to graduate, was excused from the 15 to Finish program when it was implemented.
He said that the financial support that he received has allowed him to earn his degree at his own pace.
“I’ve been taking 12 to 13 credits each semester…and you know, [graduating in four years] is supposed to save you money, but realistically, I’ve been getting support from financial aid and scholarships,” Collins said.
Senior Morgan Miller will also graduate in May. She chose not to enroll in 15 credits every semester, but regardless, will only spend four years in college. The pleased soon-to-be-graduate is currently enrolled in 19 credits.
Miller was able to structure her college career according to her changing circumstances by registering for 13 credits some semesters and picking up the slack by enrolling in winter and summer terms.
“I think it’s a good program, but I don’t think it should be forced on students,” Miller said.
Nico Montforte, a freshman and mechanical engineering major on the Winter Sports Club Team disagrees with the administration’s assertion that the program will save students money.
Students with demanding course loads risk performing poorly in their classes. Some will be forced to enroll in classes multiple times, repaying for credits.
“As an engineering student, we have to get C’s or better,” Montforte said. “So if you do get less than a C, you have to retake that class again, so that kind of defeats the purpose.”
Montforte does not believe that UNR has students’ financial well-being solely in mind.
“Personally, I think it’s the school trying to up their four year graduation rate,” Montforte said.
Performing well in classes is not students’ only responsibility. In an economy where college degrees are abundant, professional experience sets students apart from each other in applications for graduate programs and jobs.
Iain Dover chose to supplement his college education with job training. The senior is currently enrolled in 15 credits and consistently took 13 to 15 credits each semester. The length of his college career will amount to five years. Dover believes that the university attaches stigma to individuals who require more than four years to earn their bachelor’s degree.
“[The program] takes away from people who have outside jobs. I worked at an outside laboratory two days a week,” Dover said. “You need time in college to get professional experience.”
UNR’s policy holds that varsity athletes, level III nursing students, the disabled, and veterans, are the only students who can be exempt from the program.
The university, however, does not grant the same exception to club teams, so Montforte’s time constraints are ignored.
“It puts a lot of stress on me because a lot of my scholarships are linked to the 15 to Finish,” Montforte said. “During competitive season, it’s a little too much. It would be better to have 12 [credits].”
Ultimately though, one thing remains clear. Despite the opinion of the student, as time-to-graduation continues to rise, 15 to Finish will be here to stay.
Kayla Carr and Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.