A “two-year” degree typically takes more than four years, raising the The Real Cost of College in California,” reports Campaign for College Opportunity. Furthermore, associate degree graduates earn a median of 78 credits — well over the 60 required. All those extra credits lead to higher costs and fewer available seats at the state’s community colleges.
At California State University campuses, where many community college students hope to transfer, the median is 4.7 years for a four-year degree and 135 credits instead of 120.
Reducing the number of excess credits by just one in the community college system would save students $2 million in fees, save the state $21 million and create space for an additional 7,320 full-time students, notes Michele Siqueiros, the Campaign’s executive director. A 10 percent reduction in credits would yield $16 million in student savings, and $168 million in savings to the state, which could create space for an additional 58,560 students.
Time is a key part of the “college affordability crisis,” Siqueiros told the Los Angeles Times.
During the recession, California’s 112 community colleges lost $1 billion in funding. “Because of the lack of state funding, we had to reduce our workload and students were on long waiting lists, so that was a big factor,” said Francisco Rodriguez, the new chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.
Shut out of the classes they needed, some students signed up for whatever courses had empty seats to remain eligible for financial aid, the study found.
The report recommends:
Get students in and through pre-college level classes faster and improve the way students are placed into college level math and English
Require campuses to do a better job of matching class offerings with student needs
Increase college funding to restore classes so that students can get the courses they need and graduate more quickly
Encourage students to enroll full-time and take a full 15-credit course load every semester
Increase financial aid knowledge, simplify the financial aid process, and increase the amount of financial aid available to students so that more students can attend college full time and graduate on time
Provide information on time to degree to students, policymakers and researchers
Many community college students nationwide earn extra credits, writes researcher Matthew Zeidenberg in a 2012 working paper. Good advising could help students save time and money, while raising their odds of completing a degree.
Students may need to experiment to gain clarity about academic and career goals; they may be taking courses that deepen their knowledge or improve their skills more generally; and there may be labor market returns to more credits independent of a credential. On the other hand, students may . . . lack information about the correct courses to take to complete a program of study, or they may accumulate excess credits when their required classes aren’t available, thus forcing them to enroll in “extraneous” courses that allow them to maintain full-time status for financial aid.
Colleges could “direct undecided students to intensive one-on-one academic and career counseling” while using “light-touch” or e-advising for students with clear goals, Zeidenberg writes. “Such a system could electronically track every student and contact them via email if they register for courses that do not advance them in their declared program or will not transfer to their target institution, and offer alternative registration options that would satisfy these goals.”
Georgia’s Guided Pathways to Success is designed to help students earn the credits they need — without excess credits — to cut the time and cost of earning a degree.