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15-Credit Course Loads Increase Odds of Graduation

August 22, 2017

Incoming college students who average at least 15 credits per term during their first year are more likely to stick around and graduate and also get better grades, according to a new analysis from EAB, a research firm.

The study tracked 1.3 million full-time students at 137 institutions. (See a description of the methodology here.) It found that students who averaged at least 15 credits per term during their first year were 19 percentage points more likely to graduate in four years. They were also more likely to return for their sophomore year and had GPAs that were higher than their peers’. In addition, EAB analyzed a subset of approximately 20,000 students and found that those who were eligible to receive Pell Grants had similarly positive outcomes when they took 15 credits per semester.

“These findings show that an increased credit load is unlikely to be detrimental for students at any academic level, challenging a common concern that taking more classes is a bad idea for struggling students,” Ed Venit, senior director of strategic research at EAB, said in a written statement. “In fact, the least-prepared students were more likely to persist and get better grades if they took a few extra credits their first term.”

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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