USHE institutions set goals to increase college completion rates

Increasing the number of students who successfully complete college with a degree or certificate has been a top priority of the Board of Regents for nearly a decade, and it was reaffirmed with the Board’s new strategic objectives approved last week.

In July 2013, the Board passed a college completion resolution, identifying five initiatives proven to increase college success and graduation rates. In July 2014, the Board charged the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) institutions to set three- and five-year goals in support of improving Utah’s college completion rates, outlined below. USHE institutions will provide annual reports on their progress towards these goals and report to the Board of Regents each year.


 Overall Completion Goals

Though not explicitly requested, three institutions provided overall completion goals:

University of Utah

  • Increase six-year graduation rate from 60% to 65% in three years and 67% in five years
  • Increase first-to-second year retention rate from 88.4% to 90% in three years and 91% in five years

Weber State University

  • Increase graduate rates 1% per year until July 2018, with the five year goal to increase from 37% to 42%

Southern Utah University

  • Increase graduation rate from 53% to 70%

Increase the percentage of students taking 15 credit hours/semester or 30 credits/year, to help students maximize their dollars and time.

In order to graduate on time, students need to take at least 15 credits/semester (or 30 credits/year), one more class per semester than the 12 credits/semester federally-defined as full-time. USHE launched a 15 to Finish campaign in 2013 to help raise awareness,. In Utah, seven of the eight public colleges and universities have plateau tuition, which means a student can take 15 credits per semester for the same price as 12. USHE institutions set three- and five-year goals to increase the percentage of students taking 15 credits/semester (or 30 credits/year), outlined below.

% of students currently taking 15 credits/semester or 30 credits/year, and 3- & 5-year goals


Create semester-by-semester degree program maps with specific recommended courses each semester.

Many students need to be shown a clear pathway on how to get a degree. These program maps help students stay on track to finish their degrees on time, and better enable institutions to maximize course scheduling availability for students. USHE institutions each set a target date for when each of their degrees will have a degree program map, with the majority being finished this year.

% of degree program maps complete, and date set for 100% completion


Increase the number of students successfully completing math within the first year through class or prior credit (AP, concurrent enrollment, etc).

The data clearly show a significant predictor of college success is when students meet the general education math requirement by the end of their first year of college. In fact, students who haven’t yet met their math requirement and enroll in any math class during their first year of college are three times as likely to eventually finish their math requirement than students who don’t enroll in math during their first year. To that end, USHE institutions set three- and five-year goals to increase the number of students completing their math requirement during the first year they are enrolled.

% of students completing math within first year, and 3- & 5-year goals


Increase the number of reverse transfer/stackable credentials awarded.

Another way USHE institutions are working to increase college completions is to explore the feasibility of awarding reverse transfer/stackable credentials. An example of reverse transfer is when a student is awarded an associate degree while they are working to earn a bachelor’s degree, which allows the student to have a degree if they are unable to complete their bachelor’s. Stackable credentials is when, for example, a certificate is counted as credit earned toward an associate degree, allowing students to choose to easily continue their studies past their anticipated credential. USHE institutions are working to increase the number of reverse transfer/stackable credentials in the following ways:

University of Utah

Utah State University

  • Increase number of students completing an associate degree by 5% annually.
  • Increase number of SLCC students transferring to USU with an associate degree by 5% annually.
  • At least one new stackable credential will be developed by USU annually over the next five years.

Weber State University

  • Maintain reverse transfer.

Southern Utah University

  • College Connection students (provisional acceptance) are required to complete AA/AS degrees within three years.
  • Established a goal to initiate assistance for all qualified transfer students from Snow College and SLCC to receive reverse transfer associate degrees.

Snow College

  • Add 25 additional certificates in five years that lead to AAS and then BA/BS degrees.
  • Increase the number of AA/AS degrees to 800 in five years (baseline: 731 in 2013).
  • Increase reverse transfer degrees awarded to 175 in five years.

Dixie State University

  • Exploring streamlining the awarding of associate degrees.

Utah Valley University

  • Reviewing 31 certificates and 62 associate degrees to determine additional stackable pathways, with the goal of 12-15 pathways per year.

Salt Lake Community College

  • 25% increase in five years in certificates awarded.
  • Maintain top-10 status in number of AA/AS degrees awarded.

More details on USHE institutions’ completion goals

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