To complete an associate degree in four terms or a bachelor’s degree in eight, students must enroll in at least 15 credits per semester, yet relatively few students actually take 15 credits, often enrolling in 12 credits (or fewer), which colleges typically consider to be “full-time.” To increase rates of on-time completion, a number of states and higher education advocacy groups advocate defining full-time as 15 credits, and a growing number of institutions are implementing policies based on such a definition.
This report provides an overview of three distinct types of 15-credit strategies being used nationally—financial incentives, social marketing, and structural reforms. It reviews the research evidence on their effectiveness and outlines their potential challenges and unintended consequences. The report also identifies three types of additional policies that are designed to promote higher intensity enrollment without focusing exclusively on 15 credits—tuition policies, financial aid policies, and structural policies. It concludes by identifying issues that colleges and states wishing to implement 15-credit strategies should consider.