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New Initiatives Aim to Cut Early Student Dropouts by Increasing Connection

July 12, 2023 2-minute read
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Every year, postsecondary education institutions lose a number of students in what's considered the "pre-census" period — the first couple of weeks of the semester before official enrollment numbers are reported to the government. While data indicating why this happens is sparse, one hypothesis is that these students, particularly students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, feel alienated when they arrive on campus. A possible solution is to enact learner centered practices that increase these learners' sense of belonging. This, in turn, makes them more likely to succeed in their courses, persist from semester to semester, and achieve their academic goals. That’s why we recently made a pair of grants to work on student retention during this pre-census period.

The first of these grants supports our longtime partner, the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC), in partnering with Alamo Colleges District (ACD) to address early student dropouts. This initiative will engage faculty and staff to examine institutional data and student experiences to identify campus-level practices that may help retain students at risk of leaving prior to colleges' official enrollment count. It coincides with the publication of the fourth in a series of reports on Caring Campus, the IEBC initiative that seeks to increase students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy — and, thus, their persistence and success in postsecondary education — by improving their interactions with faculty and nonacademic staff. This work should prove especially beneficial to learners from low-income backgrounds, who make up a large percentage of community college students.

“We now have decades of research documenting that learners who feel connected to their postsecondary education institution are more likely to persist and complete their education,” says Ascendium Senior Program Officer Sue Cui. “The institutions that adopt student-centered approaches tend to yield strong results.”

A second grant supports RAND Corporation in studying early student loss at Dallas College. Throughout the 24-month study, researchers from RAND will examine institutional data, student experiences, and campus-level practices. They’ll then share insights with the field about students who leave prior to colleges' official enrollment count and how community colleges can help retain them. Our hope is that this study not only builds awareness about pre-census loss and its implications but also presents solutions for helping students overcome barriers so they can continue their education and obtain a degree.

“This work is predicated on the belief that retaining more entering students would go a long way toward reversing community college enrollment declines,” says Cui. “Through these initiatives, we hope to learn strategies for capturing and addressing early student loss that can be shared with and adopted by other campuses.”