Earlier this month, UNC-Asheville announced plans for increasing on-time graduation.
According to Inside Higher Ed, UNC-A is unveiling a program called “first to finish,” which covers tuition for four courses that help satisfy the liberal arts core requirements. In addition to covering tuition, the program will cover fees and housing for students.
The University is planning to offer free summer courses for students one or two classes short of senior status in order to encourage their completion of the 120 credits required for graduation.
The program will be offered to between 75 and 100 students.
UNC-A’s interim Chancellor Joseph Urgo said in an email the program targets low-income, rural and first-generation students. Urgo has emphasized that graduating in four years offers benefits to students’ success both inside and outside the classroom.
“A student who finishes in four years instead of five can find themselves tens of thousands of dollars ahead of their peers a decade later," he said.
Further considering the benefits of the summer programs, Urgo added that they save taxpayer dollars.
"It's compounded by fewer student loans that could have been accrued during another semester, and the opportunity cost for a year the student might not have been in the labor market,” he said.
The program comes as an effort to improve the University's current four-year graduation rate of just under 40 percent and six-year graduation rate of about 60 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Funding for the "first to finish" initiative stems from a $95,000 UNC-system award to UNC-A.
"First to finish" is the expanded pilot program of a program launched last summer called “Back on Track.” Back on Track was offered to students one or two courses away from senior status following their junior year. The program accepted 23 of 38 applicants; 19 of the 23 accepted applicants are now on track to graduate in May.
Andrew Kelly, senior vice president for strategy and policy in the UNC system, said “first to finish” is an important test for the system. Other UNC-system schools are also considering implementing such a program to encourage on-time graduation, Inside Higher Ed reported.
Western Carolina University is beginning a similar program, which will offer $500 scholarships to 70 incoming sophomores who do not have 30 semester hours but have a 3.0 GPA or higher. The scholarships will also be available to incoming students taking the early-enrollment summer program, Catamount Gap, which offers students the opportunity to receive between six and eight credit hours.
Like UNC-A, WCU has taken these steps in an attempt to improve graduation rates, particularly in light of WCU’s high rate of first-generation students, many of whom do not have stable financial support.
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