Utah Regents push higher credit loads to boost graduation rates
Utah colleges • The educators consider pushing for larger class loads, which may not be good news for students who have to work full time.
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At least half of students who enroll at Utah's public colleges and universities don't graduate.

The Utah Board of Regents on Friday approved a series of ideas aimed at helping to improve those disconcerting numbers, including initiatives designed to encourage students to take larger class loads and to help improve their math skills.

"We have a lot of people who start going to college … but are not finishing," said Dave Buhler, state commissioner for higher education. "That's not great."

About 40 percent of students entering Utah's higher education institutions, many of which have open enrollment, need remedial math. National research shows only about a third of such students end up completing remedial work and progressing to for-credit math courses.

"Developmental math is often the graveyard for people's expectations of graduating college," Buhler said.

To help students, Weber State University is experimenting with "flipped classrooms" where students watch lectures online and go to class for homework help. Utah State University is working with area high schools, and Salt Lake Community College is trying a model that supports students through study groups.

Another potential boost for SLCC — where many students take classes before transferring to another institution — could be automatically granting associate degrees to students who complete the requirements. Currently, students must apply and pay a graduation fee.

The Regents decided to explore the concept, though Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland pointed out that "some students, for whatever reason, don't want that."

Perhaps the most noticeable new message will be an encouragement for students to take 15 credit hours rather than 12, which is considered full-time by the federal government.

"Do the math," Buhler said. "Fifteen is really what full-time is if you want to graduate with a bachelor's or associate degree."

To get that message across, his office has put together an online commercial and advertising campaign. Though no official policy is set to change, Buhler said he hopes to nudge the 48 percent of Utah System of Higher Education students who are taking 12 to 14 credit hours to increase their workload a bit.

But, in a time of ever-rising tuition, about 75 percent of Utah students work while in college, which could prevent them from taking on more credit hours.

And the Utah Legislature hasn't added new funding to need-based scholarships in years.

To help the financial strain, the Regents also decided to explore "plateau tuition," or making 12 credit hours cost the same as 15 hours.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst