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Campaign Encourages Students to Take 30 Credits a Year, Boosting Graduation Rates

15/30 The Longer You Stay, The More You Pay The City University of New York is launching a major push to sharply improve graduation rates at all 18 of its senior and community colleges.

The ambitious initiative, called the CUNY Academic Momentum Campaign, is a core feature of the Connected CUNY Strategic Framework. The campaign is designed to support the strategic framework’s Access and Completion pillar, which commits to meeting two goals: doubling the CUNY system’s three-year graduation rate for associate students to 35 percent for entering 2019 full-time freshmen; and raising the overall six-year graduation rate for baccalaureate students, currently 55 percent, to 65 percent for the 2019 class of entering students.

“CUNY will be at the forefront of the national drive to improve college completion,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “The Momentum Campaign is the way forward. It involves the entire University community in embracing a new culture of completion that we know will help many more students earn their degrees.”

One of the key approaches of the campaign will be the communications efforts to promote course loads of 15 credits a semester and 30 a year as the new definition of full-time status — and the way not only to graduate in a timely manner but to maximize financial aid in order to get there. New York State financial aid is among the most generous in the country but it is limited to eight semesters. The state’s new Excelsior Scholarship, meanwhile, requires students to take and earn 30 credits a year in order to qualify. These factors are already showing signs of impact on enrollment patterns: In the fall CUNY enrolled a record freshman class of 38,372, and there was a sharp increase in the percentage of full-time first-year students taking 15 or more credits in their first semester, from 30.6 percent to 40.7 percent.

The Momentum Campaign pulls together a variety of strategies already showing success in helping undergraduates 15/30 - Do The Mathat CUNY and across the country earn degrees at higher rates and more economically. To meet the graduation-rate targets, the University’s Office of Academic Affairs is working with each undergraduate college to create its own academic momentum plan that expands practices proven to accelerate student success, including CUNY’s nationally recognized Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP), which helps students earn associate degrees within three years by providing a range of financial, academic and personal supports.

Another of CUNY’s strategies is a senior college version of the pioneering ASAP initiative called ACE (for Accelerate, Complete, and Engage). Racquelle Patterson expects to graduate this spring from the pilot program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice that began in 2015. She will have a bachelor’s in criminology, a minor in drug counseling and will qualify as a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor – and she will have done all that in just three years. “It was a personal goal to finish a year earlier,” Patterson said.

15/30 Step It UpYet another strategy is the model found in the success at the six-year-old Guttman Community College, which has won plaudits for its supportive academic environment.

Additionally, the University is partnering with Complete College America (CCA), a national nonprofit organization that helps states and university systems scale up evidence-based college completion strategies to improve graduation rates and close achievement gap.

“Most of our colleges have been implementing evidence-based approaches for improving rates for timely graduation over the last few years,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Vita C. Rabinowitz. “What we’re doing now is asking each of them to adopt and accelerate the strategies that they have found to best serve their student populations so that we increase the overall graduation rates of the entire CUNY system.”

According to Donna Linderman, University Dean for Student Success Initiatives and one of the co-leads of the Connected CUNY Access and Completion pillar, the Academic Momentum Campaign will expand and integrate advances in a few key areas: Improving remediation and other academic intervention methods to increase gateway math and English course completion within the first year; making sure every student has an academic roadmap and effective advisement for their degree of choice; and instilling the importance of taking enough credits – 15 a semester or 30 a year – to keep them on track for graduating on time and with maximum available financial aid.