Each year, students who are just a few semesters away from graduation end up dropping courses, withdrawing from academic programs and stopping out. In many cases, completion rates are lowest for low-income, first-generation, and students of color. While colleges and universities often direct success efforts toward students early in their academic careers, there's an equally important need to address the challenges faced by at-risk students approaching the finish line. At this stage, students fall short for a variety of reasons: increasing textbook and supply costs, class scheduling conflicts, maxing out on their financial aid, transportation issues, and other life challenges.
This issue is magnified when students abandon academic programs that lead to high-demand careers—positions remain unfilled, and employers and the economy both take a loss.
Equally concerning is that students who drop out near the end of their programs often have amassed a degree's worth of student loan debt. Without the earning power a credential or degree can provide, they often struggle with repayment.
Our College Completion Grant asks colleges to look inward to find barriers they might be putting in the way of students who have completed at least 75% percent of a high-demand program like nursing, IT and business. It's a courageous and ambitious undertaking. The fourteen colleges are working to remove obstacles within their policies, pathways and practices that are preventing students from finishing, with particular attention paid to issues affecting low-income students and students of color. Recognizing that students share responsibility for their academic success, grant funds also help college identify and address students' personal barriers to completion.
To begin closing equity gaps on campuses and in communities, colleges and universities are focusing on:
- Programs that have a sizeable completion gap between underserved students and the rest of the student population,
- Academic programs that produce graduates for high-demand career fields, as determined by local, regional or national labor market needs, and
- Students who have completed 75% or more of all program requirements but are at risk of dropping out
STRATEGIES FOR ADDRESSING BARRIERS TO COMPLETION
While each college developed strategies to target the unique needs of their students and campus, there were common themes to the types of work that will be done over the next two and a half years. Activities to boost college completion will include:
- Addressing scheduling conflicts. Colleges will optimize course sequencing and scheduling to make required classes available at the right times.
- Improving academic performance. Expanded tutoring will support students in advanced-level classes. Supplemental instruction will help students succeed in courses with historically low pass rates.
- Providing proactive advising. Advisors will regularly connect with students to identify areas of need (e.g., general education requirements, career planning advice), refer them to support services, and develop personalized completion plans.
- Offering additional financial support. Small grants will help students overcome unexpected emergencies, or close the gap between financial aid and college costs.
Our partner colleges spent spring semester 2017 in a capacity building period. Not only did they develop plans for their college completion efforts over the next two academic years, but they also served nearly 1,400 students through initial interventions. According to college-reported data, 85% of participating students completed 100% of the credits they attempted, and they are now well on their way to graduation. We look forward to learning the results of the colleges' full implementations launched during fall 2017 semester.
- Alverno College, Milwaukee, WI ($199,600)
- Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee, WI ($200,000)
- Clark State Community College, Springfield, OH ($199,643)
- Columbus State Community College, Columbus, OH ($155,824)
- Concordia University, St. Paul, St. Paul, MN ($199,575)
- Kent State University, Kent, OH ($200,000)
- Lorain County Community College, Elyria, OH ($106,540)
- Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee, WI ($200,000)
- North Central State College, Mansfield, OH ($175,008)
- North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND ($200,000)
- Northcentral Technical College, Wausau, WI ($181,449)
- Saint Paul College, St. Paul, MN ($200,000)
- University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Fort Smith, AR ($199,880)
- University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, Batesville, AR ($198,968)