Incentive Grants Increase Student Success

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
Incentive Grant Infographic

Infographic by Michael Lindsey. Source of Data: TMCC Institutional Research, Analysis and Effectiveness Office

Twice as many students attended U.S. colleges in 2009 than in 1970, but the completion rate of degree and certificate programs has remained static, according to Complete College America (CCA). The challenge of improving the number of students graduating is being successfully addressed by Truckee Meadows Community College through a program of graduation incentive grants.

Higher education experts say that the problem of decreased degree completion is in part due to a higher proportion of students working and enrolling part-time. CCA is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to increase the number of Americans who complete college or achieve a career certificate.

“Data reveal that part-time students are less than half as likely to graduate even when they take additional time to do so,” writes the CCA in “Using Student Financial Incentives to Promote Timely Completion”.

Sharon Wurm, Director of Financial Aid and Student Success, agrees.

“At TMCC, students who receive financial aid and enroll full-time are three times more likely to graduate than those that enroll part-time,” she said. “Complete College America recommends providing financial aid incentives to encourage students to attend full-time and maintain continuous enrollment.”

The Sequence of Incentive Grants Began at TMCC in 2011

“In 2011, TMCC began meeting that challenge by creating the first of three incentive grants to encourage students to attend full-time and graduate within three years,” Wurm said. “Fast forward to today, and TMCC now offers a series of three incentive grants to encourage full-time enrollment starting with the student’s first semester.”

There are three Incentive Grants:

  • Graduation Incentive Grant
  • TMCC Incentive Grant
  • Freshman Incentive Grant

Incentive Grants at TMCC Have Indeed Dramatically Raised Graduation Rates

Graduation rates reported by TMCC Institutional Research, Analysis and Effectiveness for students receiving the Graduation Incentive Grant are significantly higher than that of their peers:

  • Graduation rate for 2012-13, entire college: 16%
  • Graduation rate for 2012-13, cohort (starting 2009) receiving Grant: 65%
  • Graduation rate for 2013-14, entire college: 21 percent
  • Graduation rate for 2013-14, cohort (starting 2010) receiving Grant: 74%
  • Graduation rate for 2014-15, entire college: 28%
  • Graduation rate for 2014-15, cohort (starting 2011) receiving Grant: 60%

“The Graduation Incentive Grant is offered to help students close to graduating, but needing a little extra help to complete their training,” Wurm said. “This is not the only thing that assists students near their diploma, but it does help quite a bit.”

Each academic year, there are about 550 incoming first-year students. Financial Aid staff analyze each record individually to see if the student is enrolled in math and English, progressing towards their declared degree program, and registered for 12 or more credits.

Incentive Grants Have Been Made Possible by an NSHE Fee Surcharge to Colleges That Began in 2011

TMCC was the first college in Nevada to direct part of a fee surcharge instituted by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) to a financial aid program of incentive grants. The targeted group includes first time, full-time, degree-seeking students entering college, tracked to completion through a period of three years. Completion rate of this cohort is tracked nationally as part of the Graduation Rate Survey, or GRS.

The Graduation Incentive Grant began giving a boost to students near completion of their associate degrees.

Students receive $1,250 per semester during their third year of study, leading to a degree. This is higher than the typical institutional grant of $500. To qualify, they must have enrolled full-time for their first semester and completed these steps:

  • Orientation
  • On-track workshop before Spring Semester
  • Meet with adviser before their second Fall Semester
  • Apply for financial aid and be shown as needy
  • Must complete all classes in the Fall to receive a Spring award
  • Must be enrolled in classes that apply towards their degree program

Each year’s cohort of incoming freshmen is also monitored for any signs of academic difficulty, reported by instructors. Students are provided targeted intervention if needed. The cohort groups are also tracked for progress, providing TMCC with data to improve services and outreach.

Additional Grants Are Now Offered to Students at the Beginning or Middle of a Program

The second grant, TMCC Incentive Grant, began in school year 2012-13, and was offered to students in their second year of a degree program. Staff measured persistence from the Fall semester, re-enrolling in Spring. For the purposes of this program, persistence means they met all the qualifications from Fall as well as meeting qualifications for the Spring award.

In 2014-15, the Freshman Incentive Grant program began. Additional requirements were added to reflect the U.S. research studies that demonstrate students completing English and math courses early are more successful in achieving degrees.

“Students have to enroll in math and English their first semester, and they are aware they’re in a cohort that is tracked for success,” Wurm said.

Other requirements include:

  • Apply for financial aid and be shown as needy
  • Must enroll full time, at 12 or 15 Fall, and 12 or 15 Spring Semester credits
  • Must enroll in math and English during Fall Semester
  • Have to complete more than two-thirds of their classes each semester
  • Maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA)

NSHE “15 to Finish” Campaign Adds Increased Incentive

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, NSHE began the 15 to Finish campaign to boost numbers of students finishing their bachelor’s degrees in four years, and associate degrees in two.

As a result of the campaign, TMCC increased the grant amount for students electing to complete 15 credits per semester. If students take 15 credits, they can receive $1,500 per term, instead of receiving $1,250 taking 12 credits. Alternatively, they can receive the additional $500 if they take six credits in the summer after taking 12 credits in Fall and Spring, said Wurm.

“If they meet requirements, students are contacted to see if they are interested in the 15 credit incentive,” she said. “Students can now potentially receive $9,000 the entire time they are at TMCC, although we do hope they will graduate in two years.”

For more information about Financial Aid, Scholarships and Student Employment and Veteran Services, please call 775-673-7072.