Stay on Track: College students, take 15 credits per semester

Young people across West Virginia have begun yet another year on college campuses as they work toward their degrees and pursuing their career goals. In fact, West Virginia University reported a record number of new freshmen enrollments this year — 6,224 of them, to be exact.

As part of the effort to make sure all those freshmen, at WVU and every other institution of higher learning in the state, achieve their goals, the Higher Education Policy Commission is issuing a reminder: Earn at least 15 credits per semester to stay on track for graduation.

It is tempting, particularly for students experiencing their first taste of “adult” freedom, to coast a bit during those early college years — 12 credits here, 13 credits there. But doing so can put them at a serious disadvantage as they approach what should be their senior year. Suddenly they are faced with the choice between trying to cram in 18 or 21 hours a semester to graduate on time, or spending the money for an extra semester or two of college.

Neither option is particularly appealing.

Commission experts remind students the federal financial aid language that describes only 12 hours as a “full time” enrollment for a semester is deceiving, and designed to cost the student (or his or her parents) more money in the long run. According to Complete College America, an additional year at a public four-year college costs nearly $150,000 in additional tuition and fees and the opportunity costs associated with delaying entry into the workforce. Of course, in the case of federal student loans, another year’s worth to repay, with interest, is a huge detriment to the payor and big bonus for the payee — the government.

Remind the college students you know that they could wind up playing catchup right out of the starting gates, if they do not heed the commission’s advice. Each of them should be aiming for “15 to Finish.”

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