University specialists assist students in completing their degree on time


Verna Townson

Digital art of a graduate looking toward their future.

Verna Townson, [email protected], News Writer

Students said they aren’t graduating on time due to failing classes and poor mental health. Universities are employing student success specialists and advisors to help students navigate available resources. 

“I understand when it comes to financial aid, some students don’t have the money or resources to be here longer than what they’re supposed to be,” said Brittanie Jones, a student success specialist at the University of North Carolina Asheville. 

According to the PDP Insights Report, an average full-time student does not complete 15 credit hours per semester, which is needed to achieve a bachelor’s degree within four years.

Jones said she tries to ensure students take the appropriate amount of 15 or more credit hours per semester, unless being requested otherwise. As a student success specialist, her job is to offer help to students who may need assistance in scheduling classes, declaring a major or finding an adviser.

“Some students know their class load schedule has been too much, and they don’t want to overload themselves, or they’ve had a bad semester previously,” Jones said. 

Figures show college students are taking longer than anticipated to complete their degrees, according to the (PDP) Insights Report.

Jones said she recognizes college students are exposed to several challenges which may extend their time at an institution such as mental health, financial aid and limited availability between work and school. 

According to The Coalition of Education, 40% of full-time students and 74% of part-time students were employed while they attended school in 2020. 

Jones said each student’s needs are different. A student may consider taking 12 credit hours because it is full-time status, but she may recommend 15 or more credit hours for a four year plan. 

UNCA currently offers four year plans which are available online. These plans are specific to one’s major and can be enforced independently by students or with the help of an adviser. 

Jones said students can reach out to advisers both in person and online to schedule an appointment, available Monday through Friday. 

“We are in the process of going to introduce ourselves to the class and the professor whenever their class meets as another way of support,” Jones said. “I can be a resource or an outlet.”

Austin Jenkins is a sophomore at North Carolina State University majoring in mechanical engineering. 

“I believe I will have to pick up a minor to stay as a full-time student in order to complete my last year due to when the classes are available and not lining up with my audit,” Jenkins said. 

Between 2011 and 2021, the percentage of people 25 and older with a completed bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 30.4% to 37.9%, according to the US Census. 

“My advisors didn’t inform me of any classes required, which is an excessive and specific amount for engineering. They didn’t tell me which classes were prerequisites, or about classes that are only offered during fall and spring semesters. It really throws you off and if I didn’t have a friend who knew it all, I’d be even more behind than one year,” Jenkins said. 

According to the US Census, about 14.3% of adults had an advanced degree in 2021. 

“I think I was extremely under-informed about the degree audit and how helpful it could’ve been to use it. Somehow they expect you to finish college in 4 years yet my audit didn’t show how I should’ve taken it,” Jenkins said. 

According to The College Board, the average net cost of attendance for U.S. public four-year institutions in 2019-20 was $19,520. 

“I failed a class because of mental health reasons. This class happened to be a prerequisite for every other class that followed, pushing me behind a year. After switching from industrial to mechanical engineering, I was even more behind because the classes didn’t line up. I also have to take summer classes because even with adding all the classes to reach around 16 hours a semester, I’m still behind,” Jenkins said.  

According to the Healthy Minds Study, in 2020 to 2021 more than 60% of college students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems. 

“Check your degree audit. It may not look important but you need to know as much as you can about your years in college. Things happen, classes may not be available, so try your best to have as much planned as possible. Going with the flow is great for you, but keep in mind what it may do to your future self,” Jenkins said. 

Warren Wilson’s Senior Associate Director of Admissions Morning Naughton said first-year students typically take fewer credit hours than upperclassmen. 

From 2011 to 2021, the number of people age 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s degree rose to 24.1 million, and the number of doctoral degree holders rose to 4.7 million.

Naughton said roughly 10% of students attending Warren Wilson spend more than 120 credit hours in their given institution.  

Federal financial aid is eligible for full-time students for 10 semesters, or a maximum of 180 hours. After this period students have to rely on loans or other forms of financial assistance. 

Naughton said students at Warren Wilson typically graduate within eight semesters, and students who take more credit hours than required typically fail classes or change majors later in their academic career.

“Falling behind can mean an entire year,” Jenkins said.