Community college program seeks to encourage faster graduation

Mai Nguyen, 19, says the Community College program will let her graduate in two years.
Mai Nguyen, 19, says the Community College program will let her graduate in two years. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 31, 2014

Jonathan Jusino spent his first year out of high school as a stock clerk and sales associate at a clothing store, and found it unfulfilling.

"I noticed there was no future for me in the work I was doing," he said.

So Jusino enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia last fall as a first step in pursuing a teaching career. With his financial aid, it would have taken him three years to get his associate's degree. But a program introduced by the college this semester will allow him to finish in 21/2.

This month, the college announced free courses for students in good academic standing who increase their course load to 15 credits a semester. The program works like this: Pay for 12 credits - the equivalent of four courses - and the college picks up the tab for the fifth, worth about $555.

"I would have had to pay for the fifth class," said Jusino, 20, and that would have been tough.

To become eligible, students must have completed 24 credits, taken no fewer than nine and no more than 14 credits the previous semester, and have a grade-point average of at least 2.5. They also must be Philadelphia residents. To stay enrolled, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, have no course withdrawals or failures, and pay their college bills.

Jusino, a graduate of Olney High School, also plans to take 15 credits in the spring and again next fall, allowing him to shave a total of $1,660 off tuition. Students need about 62 credits to graduate, depending on their degree and path.

The college, which enrolls more than 5,000 full-time students and thousands part time, is the latest local school to aim at lowering student debt and boosting on-time graduation rates, a national refrain as pressure mounts to reduce higher education costs.

Temple University this year began offering incoming students from lower-income families $4,000 annual grants to help cover the cost of tuition if they meet certain requirements. Strayer University, a for-profit school, last fall started offering students a tuition-free course for every three courses they complete. The benefit cannot be cashed in until a student's final year at Strayer.

"This is a strategy to get students to complete earlier and save money," said Samuel Hirsch, CCP vice president for student affairs. "We want to do anything we can to get students to see the importance of completion and reduce the time to get there."

About one in five students who come in full time their first semester are ready to graduate in five years.

This year, for the first time since 2008, the college froze tuition, at $153 a credit.

Hirsch said the college wants to enroll 100 students in the program this semester and add more each successive semester. Students in the program get one-on-one academic advising.

The program will not cost the college more money, he said, since the students will tend to take upper-level courses that have space for students and would have been offered anyway.

Mai Nguyen, 19, an aspiring nurse and graduate of Constitution High, is happy to fill a seat. It will allow her to graduate in two years.

"I didn't have the money for the fifth class," said Nguyen, who gets federal financial aid and works in the college's financial-aid office to pay for her books. "I would have had to save up my money to take it. Now, I'm saving money, and at the same time saving time."


ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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