Missouri launches effort aimed at tackling college debt

Report: Nearly 1 million community colleges don't offer federal student loans

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Missouri Department of Higher Education has launched a new effort aimed at increasing the odds of college students graduating on time and leaving them with less debt.

The state’s “15 to Finish” initiative encourages college students to take 15 credit hours each semester, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2d9VJJY ).

The department is teaming up with the national nonprofit Complete College America to provide the state’s two- and four-year colleges with promotional materials and plans to personalize the idea for each campus.

The organization estimates that less than one-third of students in Missouri public schools are taking 15 credit hours every semester, even though students need to take at least 15 credit hours to graduate “on time.” The same research found that nearly 60 percent of students are taking 12 hours a semester, the minimum to receive federal financial aid.

Some schools argue that students face too many responsibilities outside of school, such as work and families, so they need to have reasonable schedules.

Dean of enrollment services at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Alan Byrd Jr. said that their school is well aware that students take a longer time to complete their degrees.

“Lots of our students are holding full-time jobs, making it more difficult to have students managing a workload of 40 to 50 hours per week and classes,” Byrd said. “But we’ve done this already. We’ll just work case-by-case, look at their work schedule and class schedule.” Byrd also said that online classes are available for students in need of a more flexible schedule.

Missouri commissioner of higher education Zora Mulligan said that the new initiative could force colleges to think about which degree requirements are unnecessary and fix or eliminate them. Mulligan said the challenge with the initiative was “convincing people that it can be done.”