Moving the Needle onCollege Completion While college affordability and the “free college”movement remains at the top of the agenda in higher education, with drop rates atnearly half at many four-year institutions and two-year colleges, there can beno dispute that resolving the completion issue would produce more graduatesthan resolving the affordability issue. Althoughthere is no easy answer in making college free or the completion challenge, weneed to make sure that each matriculating student leaves college with a valuedcredential. Across the country, college students areenrolling in record numbers, but they are also dropping out in alarming rates. Every year, an astonishing number of studentsdrop out of college, whether they are first-year students or within a semesteror two of graduation. Even worse,student may have accrued student loan debt, but don’t have a degree that canlead to a better paying job that helps them repay that debt.
Collegestudents face many roadblocks to completion. The policies and procedures in higher education as well as the structureand organization of individual institutions make it difficult to help studentsovercome those roadblocks. There arefour major barriers that colleges and universities need to address: coursescheduling conflicts, insufficient academic support services, lengthy remedialeducation and academic advising. Inaddressing these issues, it is critical that colleges and universities not onlyevaluate their academic and student services, but they must also listen to thevoice of their students to make progress in reducing or eliminating any barrierthat may impede with student success and completion.Inaddressing scheduling conflicts, it is important that college and universitiesoffer classes that are accessible for all students. Being accessible means offering courses frommorning to evening, weekend classes as well as online courses. In my experiencein working at community-colleges as well as four-year universities, mostcommunity colleges are excellent at addressing the flexibility that students need,however some four-year college and universities cater to the traditionalfull-time college student coming directly out of high school.
The student body of today is extremely diverse,and the universities need to make sure they are accommodating all students, sostudents can get to the finish line. Many students today must work, have families, financial responsibilitiesand may worry about a place to live. Despite the changing student body, manyfour-year college and universities continue to operate on a traditional highereducation model of only offering courses in certain semesters. In this model if a student fails a course andneeds to repeat it, they may have to wait an entire semester or year beforethey can repeat it. When planning courseofferings, academic departments need to make sure they are making studentcentered decisions and not just making decisions based on what is best for specificstaff members.
If college anduniversities do not offer courses when students need them it will affect theirprogression through a major and potentially their college career. It is imperative for university administratorsto make student student-centered decisions that will create accessibility andpromote student success. Manycolleges and universities are lacking in academic support services for students. Many students struggle in key subjects andneed academic assistance. College anduniversities need to make sure that they have enough staff in the tutoringcenter to offer tutoring for all key subjects that cause students to struggleand drop out of their program and eventually the university.
It is critical that tutoring services areoffered for all students, throughout the day, evening and weekends; not justavailable for the full-time college students that attend class during theday. Providing additional academicassistance will lead to improved academic performance. As a solution, it’s important that theuniversity collects data (drop/withdraw/fail rates) on the students’performance in specific courses, so they can adjust academic support servicesas necessary. Apopular trend in higher education today is for academic departments to reduceor eliminate remedial courses so the students can take the college levelcourses right away. In my professionalexperience in higher education, I have seen some universities have a verylengthy remedial education curriculum which delays a students’ progressionthrough their program. Students must payfor the non-credited remedial courses, however do not receive any credit forthe courses.
Although most studentsagree they can use the extra work in the subject areas, they are frustratedbecause it can interfere with their plan to graduate or transfer to a four-yearuniversity. In my experience at my currentinstitution (four-year public university), the Division of Academic Affairsimplemented a student success course initiative (SSCI). The idea of this new initiative it toeliminate the remedial courses and allow the students to take the college levelcourse, however there is a one credit recitation added to the course foradditional academic support. In thisway, the student can earn college credits for the course, satisfy a courserequirement and still receive the academic support they need. All colleges and universities must createcourse initiatives that will allow students to progress through their programwhile still promoting student success. Aneffective way to help student stay on track to graduate and complete theirprogram is to offer proactive academic advising.
College and universities should havemandatory academic advising on their campuses for undergraduate students. Academic Advising offices can help studentcreate academic plans to graduate on-time and complete their degree. Advising offices can also create checkpointsthroughout to make sure students are reaching all the stop point necessary tocomplete the degree on time. Inaddition, the Advising Offices should implement early academic warninginterventions.
In the past, advisingoffices would wait until a student drops below a 2.0 gpa before any interventionwas done. Advising Offices must be moreproactive in addressing students that are struggling academically.
Don’t just wait for the students to fallbelow the 2.0 however have an earlier mark and intervene. At my current institution, we have abenchmark of 2.3 gpa, so when a student hits the gpa, we reach out to thestudents to see how we can intervene and find out what support services theyneed. Early intervention is an attemptto help the student change a pattern of behavior that may be detrimental totheir success.
Proactive academicadvising is a retention tool that will promote student success and improvecompletion. It iscrucial that colleges and universities understand their studentpopulation. It is also very importantthat university administrators listen to their students and makestudent-centered decisions that will lead to completion. University administrators need to thinkoutside of the box and be proactive in creating and implementing campus wideinitiatives that will be most beneficial for students in leading to completion.
While I agree with activists and membersof our society in the pursuit of free college, we need to eliminate barriers tostudent success so current students in higher education can make it to thefinish line.