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Higher learning: Campaign urges students to hit 20 credit hours in first year of college

ELGIN – Eighteen-year-old Austin Rakow initially planned to take nine credit hours during his first semester at Elgin Community College this fall.

But when college staff told him he wouldn’t be considered a full-time pupil, the pre-med student signed up for an additional class, bumping his course load to 13 credit hours.

Next semester, he plans to take 12 credit hours, bringing his first-year total to 25.

Elgin Community College is hoping more students will follow Rakow’s lead. It launched “The 20-in-1 Campaign” this fall after an analysis found that students who complete 20 credit hours in their first year are five times more likely to complete degrees or certificates than students who do not.

“That is huge,” said Amybeth Maurer, director of orientation and student life.

Mary Perkins, director of student and academic effectiveness, said the finding was discovered during a comprehensive analysis of student success. Of the key milestones the analysis considered, nothing compared to the statistic regarding the 20 credit hours, she said.

It was “really the one that smacked you in the face,” Perkins said.

ECC has yet to determine why the 20-credit threshold is important to student success, Perkins said, noting the analysis did not touch on that.

But, she said the findings mirrored results of national studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The agency reported statistics on credit hours in a 2006 report on degree completion from high school through college.

“Earning less than 20 credits in the first calendar year following postsecondary entry is a distinct drag on degree completion,” according to the report. “… Falling below the 20-credit threshold lessens the probability of completing a bachelor’s degree by a third.”

ECC is working to educate students about the importance of completing 20 credit hours in their first year.

“This is too good not to share,” Maurer said of the statistic, noting it could motivate students to boost their credit hours from part time to full time.

ECC has distributed items such as T-shirts and window clings, is planning workshops for students and has partnered with honor society Phi Theta Kappa to promote the statistic and to help students complete 20 credit hours, Maurer said.

Rakow, who learned of the 20-in-1 initiative through Phi Theta Kappa, said the honor society gave him a pamphlet listing 20 tips for college success. Tips include forming a study group, engaging in campus life and actively participating in class.

“I find them helpful,” he said.

ECC recognizes that completing 20 credit hours in a single year isn’t feasible for every student, Perkins said. She said that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to complete their degree.

“What it really tells us is students that have other competing life responsibilities have more challenges along the way,” she said.

Maurer said that for part-time students, ECC encourages them to look at their options so they can take the maximum among of credit hours possible.

“The more you are in college,” she said, “the more of a college mindset you have.”

Know more

As part of its 20-in-1 campaign, Elgin Community College has compiled 20 tips for students. Here are 10:

• Set your long-term and short-term goals

• Pick a major

• Form a study group

• Engage in campus life

• Ask for help

• Participate actively in class

• Master the library

• Develop a support network with people who share same goals

• Find a mentor or role model

• Practice balance

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