A 2012 UH Mānoa graduate receiving her diploma
Image: jeffrey tabisola

The University of Hawaii has launched a new campaign, “15 to Finish,” to ensure that students graduate in four years by taking at least 15 credits per semester. This campaign, which includes TV and radio commercials, comes at a time when only six percent of students graduate from their respective UH campuses, including community colleges, on time.

At the Manoa campus, students are already encouraged to “Do It In Four” by the Manoa Advising Center (MAC), which requires incoming freshmen to attend advising for their first four semesters. So why launch a program to tell students what they already know?

“It’s a system-wide communications campaign,” says Joanne Itano, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The reason we initiated it was we’re concerned not only in Hawaii but in the nation about finishing college.” It is possible to complete UH’s degree requirements if students enroll in at least 15 credits per semester rather than 12, which is the minimum amount allowed for full-time students who receive federal financial aid.

Because of work and other responsibilities, it has become the norm for students to enroll only for 12 credits, but Itano says students should first enroll in 15, which costs no more money than 12, and then decrease their workload if need be. “[It’s] about getting the message out to graduate on time and raise awareness for parents as well as students.” She hopes that by next fall, the percentage of freshmen taking 15 credits will increase by 10 percent.

If students enroll in 15 credits each semester at UH’s main campuses, they will, within four years, complete 120 credits — the new graduation requirement, as of Fall 2012. The requirement was formerly 124 credits. If they continue to enroll in only 12, however, that comes out to 96 credits. Finishing faster means spending less on tuition and getting into the workforce quicker. But for some, more classes means more pressure. “For some people whose GPA is the most important thing when they’re graduating, they take fewer classes to get a higher GPA,” says Ryan Kitamura, a fifth-year nursing student at the Manoa campus.

“I think graduation rates and retention are all parts of the criteria that different organizations that do ranking include,” Itano says. If we increase the number of graduates on time … it would help [our ranking].”

While this would help with the university’s funding opportunities, many students find timely graduation to be a reality for only a lucky few. With many classes being cut to save money, sometimes there are only 20 spaces available in a course required for a particular major, and some of those classes are only offered once a year. Once the class fills up, students who do not fit are forced to wait.

In Kitamura’s case, “They changed the prerequisites on me so I wasted my first year and a half [taking classes that were no longer required], so now it’s going to take me six and a half years to graduate. But it’s gotten better with the direct entry program [where high school graduates can apply directly to the nursing school], making it so it is possible to graduate within four years.”