Not really full time

Taking 12 units a semester is “full time” for financial aid purposes, even though students need to take — and pass — 15 units per semester to graduate on time. Only 29 percent of community college students and 50 percent of four-year college students are taking enough courses to graduate on time.  “Enrollment intensity” correlates closely with completion.

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  1. When I taught at a CC, most of the students who took a light courseload were also working full time and taking care of a family (and often dealing with complicated family situations). Most of them knew that they were looking at an 5 year plan to get 2 years worth of prerequisites done so that they could start nursing school. I have a lot of admiration for the folks who made it.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      My wife did this. Five years to get her AA while working 40 hours/week. Then started on the next five years to get her BA with the expectation that it *would* take five years. She quit work after a year or so of this and finished her BA about 18 months after that … but only because she went full time (15+ units/quarter) for the bulk of the last two academic years.


      I’m more bothered by the kids in 4-year schools that are taking less than 15ish unit/quarter … but most of them know that they are on the 5-year plan. And I’m uncertain whose fault it is … if they can’t take the courses they need because the slots aren’t available, then we have a problem, but not with the students.

      • I’ve heard horror stories of students trying to get into necessary classes. When I was an undergrad (Clemson, in the 1990s), friends at other schools were shocked when I said that we were guaranteed that, if we stayed on schedule, there would always be a class available to us to let us graduate on time. most of us took 17-18 credits, because that’s what it took to stay on schedule. Work study students often took 15, plus summer school. A lot of kids who have lottery scholarships have to keep a high GPA, so they take few classes. A student with a 3.0 in high school probably can’t keep a 3.0 in college while taking 15 hours.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          Course availability is a huge problem — especially at the larger schools.

          When I was at Wesleyan (also in the 90’s) getting into a course meant getting off your butt and going to the professor’s office to ask.

          I can only remember one instance where I wasn’t able to get a course in that fashion, and that’s when there was a line of people twenty long outside the prof’s office.

          The real kicker is that students nowadays are paying MORE for worse service in that regard.

  2. With a full complement of AP credits, the 4-year baccelaureate at 12 units/year is still feasible.

    • That’s great for students who can get it…but in a lot of small towns, you’re lucky to have a shot at 2 AP classes. Students have more access to online things now, but they have to know it’s there. I was a first-generation college student, and there were so many things that I didn’t know to look for!

    • GoogleMaster says:

      Well, unless your major requires 134-140 credit hours, in which case that’s an awful lot of AP credits. All of the engineering students in my cohort regularly took 17-19 hours a semester. They may have come in with some AP credits, but then again, a non-trivial number of them triple-majored in EE/CS/MathSci (if you did it right, it was only about 6 additional courses more than the 134 hours for a single major).

      I did it differently. I came in with 19 AP hours and graduated after four years with 155 hours and only the single major. I used the other hours to take courses that I wanted to take, in music or other unrelated departments.

    • GoogleMaster says:

      Also, the sort of people who come in with “the full complement of AP credits” are not the sort of people who settle for only 12 hours/semester, and the sort of people who take 12 hours a semester are generally not the sort of did well enough on the AP exams to get credit for them. (Exceptions made for people who are taking a light schedule because they are also working full-time.)

      • I agree with GoogleMaster. The kids with lots of APs are different from those who don’t have them, with adjustments for kids from schools not offering that opportunity. Entering college with lots of AP credits offers several different options. All of my kids had enough APs to confer sophomore status (makes it much easier to get desired courses, too) . One did a 5-yr BA-MA program in 4 years, one triple majored and one took only 12 credits most semesters, but did 3 semesters as a TA in finance and 3 semesters as an intern in a development/property-management company (with increasing responsibilities). Those experiences were HUGE factors in landing a good job. The fourth kid attended a tiny, very specialized, college that did not accept APs.

  3. My freshman’s advisor at Big State U failed to sign him up for a class he needed. By the time he realized it (5 weeks later, after orientation) no sections were open. Now he is getting emails saying he may not grad in four unless he takes summer school classes. Given that he tested out of enough that he easily has room to grad in four, I think the message is really that the schools want more money, so they are happy to have the students stay another semester.

    I advised him not to take more than 12 hrs the first semester because a. the writing course was intensive and b. his public high school wouldn’t give him a seat in honors, so he didn’t have to work in high school. I knew 12 hours would wake him up and he’d need some time to adjust his study skills and work ethic.