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It’s that time of year when college seniors are busy, readying themselves for graduation after four (or five or six) long years of working toward that degree. They’ve taken all the courses, they’ve paid all the money, they’ve worked and studied all the hours; and finally, graduation day is almost here.

Almost.

It’s also that time of year when some students will be let down — and downright surprised — to learn that, despite their best intentions, they haven’t taken all of the classes. Instead, they’re one course short of fulfilling the requirements for a degree and will need to delay graduation. It happens more frequently than you’d think, and the worst part? It can always be prevented.

The underlying, often unspoken, assumption about college students is that they’re adults, and so they should be responsible for filing the paperwork, registering for the classes, and paying the tuition bills. And they should. But these young adults also still need guidance on when the paperwork needs to be filed, how to register for classes, and what classes they need to graduate. These are processes that are unfamiliar to many college students — and especially for those who are the first in their families to navigate higher education. Colleges and universities need to take responsibility for providing students with the information and resources needed to ensure they’re taking the right classes at the right pace.

This type of support is something that institutional leaders from colleges and universities in our OASIS Network know is critical for their students. Here are some of the strategies they’ve shared with us that are making a real difference on their campuses:

Provide students with an adult they can check in with regularly. California State University–Fullerton’s Student Success Teams have been nationally recognized for their holistic approach to advising, which aims to ensure not only smooth transitions and retention from year to year, but also to increase access to enriching extracurricular experiences and other opportunities that will make graduates well-rounded candidates for the workforce. At the very least, however, colleges and universities should match all students with an adviser for all four (or more) years of their collegiate career. Without an adviser, students are more likely to enroll in courses that aren’t needed for a degree or to fall short of degree requirements — which delays graduation and costs students more.

Map out which courses students need, and in what order, to graduate in four years. The University of Houston provides students with these one-page documents that explicitly lay out which classes students should take (and when) if they’d like to graduate in four years. The documents, or “academic maps,” remove any guesswork, making it easy for students to not only understand which classes are required for graduation, but how deviating from that plan will impact their ability to graduate in eight semesters.

Require (or strongly encourage) students to enroll in 15-credit-hour course loads. Queens College offers what it calls QC in 4, a commitment to students that if they take 15 credit hours their first semester — and 30 credit hours every academic year — they will graduate in four years. It’s a seemingly simple commitment from the college, but it’s an important declaration and clarification for students who often don’t understand that 12 credits per semester (while considered full-time status) aren’t enough to get them out of college in four years.

No student should be left alone to navigate four or more years through college only to find out they’re not ready to graduate. Working together through OASIS, leaders from these colleges and universities are sharing ideas and strategies and learning from each other how to ensure real supports — and real success — for all of their students.

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