Take control of your college career – Stay on TRACK!

Mary Gower/Special to the Sun Star
March 27, 2012

Mary Gower

My high school English teacher’s nickname was “Mrs. Mac.”  Scottish, red hair and a petite powerhouse – you didn’t mess with Mrs. Mac.  She was the hardest teacher I ever had.  You knew that she demanded hard work, and Mrs. Mac set the expectation that you would succeed.   That simple philosophy made all the difference in the world.

Now, let’s focus on you. With spring in the air, you made it through another Alaska winter and are on a roll to finish out this semester in May.  Good job!

What are you going to take this summer, or next fall?  Summer courses are online for registration now, and you can check out what courses are available for fall ’12 at UAOnline.  As you look through the options, challenge yourself.  Believe that you can do it.  We do.

It takes at least 15 credits a semester to complete an associate degree in two years, or a bachelor’s degree in four years.  Can you take 15 credits a semester?  Some students have tough life challenges or other situations that prevent this option.  Can you add three more credits next fall?  Or three over summer?  Each additional three-credit class you take per year raises your probability by eight percent of graduating from UA with a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Have you heard about the Stay on TRACK campaign?  It’s an informational campaign that encourages students to take steps to reach their educational goals with as little debt and time as possible.

The university encourages you to choose your courses wisely, to make every credit count.  Personally, I would like to see you take the shortest path between freshman year and your walk across the graduation stage.  Take great classes, enjoy the experience, but keep your eye on the goal.  I speak from experience – while working to pay my way through college, I took full credit loads and enrolled in summer sessions to earn my bachelor’s degree from UAF in 3.5 years and my master’s degree the following May. Research shows the longer a student takes to get through college, the less likely they are to earn a degree.

If you’re part-time, seeking an associate degree or taking a developmental course, the basic elements of the campaign still apply. They are:

1.)   Take more credits—or at least consider the possibility.  Challenge yourself, but within reason.

2.) Register early.  Closed courses ruin the best laid plans–don’t get caught in that trap.

3.)   Ask an academic advisor.  Advisors are here for a reason – use them.  Use DegreeWorks.

4.)   Choose a major early, and stick with it. Recognize that switching majors will likely add time to your college path, as well as money or debt.

5.)   Keep up the grades.  Attend class. Take good notes, and practice good study habits.

The campaign’s initial focus is on students pursuing a baccalaureate degree.  We had to pick a starting point, and that seemed logical.  We know that 25 percent of UA students enroll in 12-14 credits a semester. By just taking one extra class, these students increase their likelihood of graduation tremendously.

You’re hearing our message. Statistics show spring 2012 enrollment spiked 9.8 percent overall in students enrolling in 15 or more credits.  By fall 2012, the university will expand the campaign to include  associate degree seeking students.  Most importantly, UA President Pat Gamble is exploring financial and/or tuition incentives to encourage timely graduation.

In developing Stay on TRACK, we looked to the national college completion movement by states and universities, and are working with the Governor’s office to explore Alaska joining the 33 states already in the Complete College America initiative.

We need to hear from you.  Please answer a short student survey or faculty/staff survey.  Also, check out the Stay on TRACK website at www.alaska.edu/stayontrack.  If you have any questions, please contact me at msgower@alaska.edu or call me at 907/450-8145.

Mary Gower is the System Director of Enrollment Services and chair of the multi-campus Stay on TRACK planning committee.  Gower is a UAF alumna, ‘94 BBA, ‘95MBA, and taught for six years as a UAF adjunct faculty member.

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