To be considered full-time and eligible for federal financial aid, New Jersey college students need to take a minimum of 12 credits per semester. But in order to graduate on time, a student's credit count must average 15 per semester.

That small difference can result in big confusion that lawmakers say keeps students in school longer than they expected, or results in students failing to achieve their educational goals.

"What happens is people are spending more time in college, get more into debt, or in the end don't actually complete the coursework," state Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, R-Union, told New Jersey 101.5.

To prevent students and their families from noticing this gap when it's too late, a new state law directs the secretary of higher education, in consultation with colleges and universities, to establish a "30 Credits Per Year to Finish" communication campaign.

Through the use of billboards, brochures and electronic resources, the campaign must reach students during course registration.

Studies show that students who enroll in 15 credits, instead of taking the bare minimum, are more likely to graduate on time," said Kean, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure. "This law will encourage them to take that leap."

Kean noted the now-required message will especially help first-generation students who may not receive assistance from people who've experienced the college enrollment process.

Although the law takes effect "immediately," it's expected the campaign won't actually launch until students are preparing for the fall 2019 semester. State officials need to craft the specifics of implementation.

The law also directs public and private institutions to annually report on the strategies employed, and incentives provided, to encourage students to enroll in no less than 30 credits per year.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.