Many community college students earn more credits than they need on the way to an associate degree, concludes a Community College Research Center study by Matthew Zeidenberg. Excess credits cost about $6 million a year, counting only courses students passed.
New students often don’t know what they want to study, he writes. They may try courses that won’t count for the degree they eventually choose. Even when they decide on a goal, there’s “limited advising” to help them take the right courses.
Structural or scheduling barriers also play a role. For instance, a student may need to take course A, but that course may not be available or convenient in a given semester; it may be full or scheduled at a bad time for the student. Instead, the student takes course B in order to maintain full-time status and remain eligible for financial aid. Or a student may be waiting to be accepted into a program and may take other courses in the meantime. Colleges have indicated that this is common in the case of nursing programs.
In some cases, students who go on to four-year institutions can transfer their excess credits, but often students face the reverse problem: Credits that were supposed to transfer are rejected.
In some cases, students earn excess credits for useful courses, Zeindenberg writes. But others are “spinning their wheels” because of “poor advising, unstructured program pathways with excessive electives, unclear transfer policies, and structural barriers.” Students pay in time and money.