With finals rapidly approaching, students at the University of Nevada, Reno, find themselves frantically studying for the five or more classes they were expected to enroll in since the school implemented the Nevada System of Higher Education’s infamous 15 to Finish program. UNR adopted its own version of the degree-completion program, 30 to Complete, which encourages students to take 30 credits each year so that a typical bachelor’s degree can be completed in four years.
Since 30 to Complete was implemented last fall, the downsides of the program are more apparent than ever as students enrolled in less than 30 credits each semester are no longer eligible for their full financial aid or scholarship packages. In years prior, 12 credits made students full time and allowed them to receive full financial aid.
Christopher Vega, a former journalism student at UNR, a parent of three children and a part-time employee, expressed his worry in an opinion article for ThisisReno after receiving an email when the 30 to Complete program began. The email read, “… Most scholarships from the University require enrollment in at least 15 credits at the University of Nevada, Reno in order for funds to be disbursed.”
After reading the dreaded email, Vega said he was worried about having to come up with an additional $700 to pay for the extra credits, and without having scholarships, he would not be able to receive the textbooks he needed for his classes.
Vega got nowhere with the Office of Financial Aid, so he took a look at the appeal form. The form gives three exceptions: disabled students, student athletes and level-three nursing students. Vega did not qualify.
“I began the research,” Vega wrote on ThisisReno. “Complete College America reported that most full time students fail to take enough credits to graduate on time. On time? I didn’t know I was on a schedule. Apparently out of 329 institutions in 30 states, graduation rates are tied to ‘enrollment intensity.’”
According to Alison Gaulden, a professor at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism, 15 to Finish does not address the challenges working adults face when attending college. She said that prime-time and low-income students do not have the luxury of giving their entire focus to education, and 15 to Finish penalizes students who have limited means and schedules.
UNR has a four-year graduation rate of 21 percent, far below some graduation rates in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. According to the Nevada System of Higher Education, students enrolled in 15 credits per semester are more than twice as likely to earn a degree than those who don’t.
Complete College America, the report cited by universities that have implemented the 15 to Finish campaign, reported last year that the vast majority of American college students do not graduate on time. The report said many more students should be encouraged to graduate in four years so that they can save time and money. In the report, Complete College America recognizes that “not every student can or will graduate on time. And there are understandable reasons. However, something is clearly wrong when the overwhelming majority of public colleges graduate less than 50 percent of their full-time students in four years.”
Complete College America reported it costs $15,933 more for a student to attend each extra year at a public two-year college and $22,826 more for each year over four years at a public four-year college or university. Complete College America said, “Our best strategy to make college more affordable and a sure way to boost graduation rates overall is to ensure that many more students graduate on time.”
Gaulden told the Nevada Sagebrush through email correspondence that 15 to Finish does not address the working class of today’s students or the mental and physical health issues that challenge students today.
While the 30 to Complete program may not address the time needs of many students, it also does not allow students who take less than 15 credits a semester to receive their full amount of financial aid.
“Institutional awards such as the Access Grant and State Access Grant and most scholarships from the university require enrollment in 30 credits at the University of Nevada, Reno, for the academic year,” said Shannon Ellis, vice president for student services at UNR. “We are vigorous in our communications with students to ask that they review their financial aid offers to see if any of their awards are dependent on the 30 to Complete enrollment.”
The Federal Pell Grant, Federal SEOG, Federal Teach Grant and the federal loans from the Department of Education are among the financial aid resources that do not require students to take 15 credits each semester.
Vega’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid paid for the 12 credits he enrolled in at UNR; however, he received nothing in financial aid from scholarships through Nevada.
UNR faculty encourages students who are unable to take 15 credits each semester to fill out the 30 to Complete Request for Approval form on the financial aid website.