Montana State University

MSU recognized nationally for its efforts to improve retention and degree completion

August 31, 2016 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

MSU has been educating students on the "Freshman 15" since 2012 with communications like this poster. Fall 2015 data shows the educational campaign has moved the percentage of freshman taking 15 or more credits from 50 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2015.

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN — Montana State University has been named one of five national finalists for the 2016 Project Degree Completion Award, which recognizes institutions that employ innovative approaches to help more students stay in school and complete their degrees.

The award is part of a Project Degree Completion, a joint initiative that the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, or APLU, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities developed in which nearly 500 public colleges and universities have pledged to collectively award 3.8 million more degrees by 2025. The annual Project Degree Completion Award includes a $15,000 prize given to the winning institution to further its efforts to improve student outcomes. APLU manages the award and the competition is open to all APLU members. The other finalists are: California State University, Fresno; Cleveland State University; University of California, Riverside; and Wayne State University.

“Helping more students stay in school and complete their degrees is one of our most important priorities at Montana State University,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “We are delighted that these efforts are producing real results and pleased that this important work is being recognized.”

“Entering college and pursuing a degree is more important than ever before,” said APLU President Peter McPherson in announcing the finalists for the award. “But the critical importance of completing a degree is too often overlooked. Raising degree completion rates remains key to achieving our national goal of 60 percent of adult Americans holding a bachelor’s degree by 2025.”

MSU was recognized for its Freshman 15 program, an effort that has been largely based on educating students and their families that there is no additional tuition cost for any credits above the first 12 credits each semester. This means students pay the same tuition for 15, 18 or 21 credits as they pay for the basic 12 credits. The program also included a faculty-initiated redesign of gateway courses to keep students on track and on time to their degrees from the start and web-based advising and registration tools to assist students and advisers in navigating a four-year plan.

Fall 2015 data shows the educational campaign has been successful: Since 2011, before the university initiated the Freshman 15 campaign, the percentage of freshmen taking 15 or more credits has grown from 50 percent to 64 percent in 2015. The combined efforts also contributed to shortening the average time students take to earn a degree by two months and a four percentage point increase in the four-year graduation rate.

“A student can only graduate in four years if they take 15 credits per semester,” Cruzado said. “And graduating in four years can save a student and their family thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, housing, food and others costs.”

A panel of seven judges reviewed the applications and determined the finalists for the 2016 Project Degree Completion Award. All five finalists will be recognized, and the winner will be announced, at the APLU annual meeting, set for Nov. 13-15 in Austin, Texas.

Contact: Chris Fastnow, director, MSU Office of Planning and Analysis, (406) 994-2870 or