Report Calls for Renewed Focus on Raising College-Completion Rates

Improving college-completion rates is “an economic and moral imperative,” a national higher-education commission said on Wednesday in an open letter to college and university leaders.

The letter, which takes the form of a report subtitled “College Completion Must Be Our Priority,” summarizes a yearlong effort by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment to identify innovative repairs for colleges’ leaky pipelines.

The 18-member commission, including presidents from every college sector, was assembled in 2011 by the American Council on Education and five other national higher-education associations. The mandate came from President Obama, who has challenged the nation to have the world’s highest proportion of people with college credentials by 2020.

As millions of low-skill, well-paying manufacturing jobs have been automated or outsourced, a growing number of positions require at least some postsecondary education, the report notes. College graduates are also more likely to land jobs with health insurance and retirement plans, are less likely to divorce, and are more likely to be tolerant and civically engaged, it adds.

But while a record number of students now attend college, too few of them graduate, and that’s where colleges should be focusing more attention, the report notes.

First-generation, working, and part-time students far outnumber the 18- to 21-year-old residential students who used to be considered traditional, and the disparity is growing rapidly, the commission points out. They need flexible schedules, more financial help, and an efficient remediation system that doesn’t discourage them so much that they drop out, it says.

“For all students, traditional or not,” the report says, “offering access without a commitment to help students complete their degrees is a hollow promise.” (Read more.)

Via Katherine Mangan, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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Student Focus Groups Reveal Barriers to Community College Success

Getting through community college is a struggle for millions of students.

Balancing work and school is harder than many expected. Many arrive on campus surprised to learn they aren’t academically prepared. And, without a clear goal or needed guidance, more often than not, students don’t make it to the finish line.

To get at the heart of the college-completion challenge, researchers recently spoke directly with students—those currently enrolled in a community college, some who had completed a degree or certificate, and others who had dropped out. The resulting report, Student Voices on the Higher Education Pathway, is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’sPostsecondary Success Initiative, Completion by Design, in partnership with New York City-based Public Agenda and West Ed, a research and development agency.

The hope is that effective and sustainable solutions can be identified by keeping students’ voices and experiences at the center of reform plans, according to the report. The research that provided the information for it was conducted in March through 15 focus groups of 161 individuals ages 18-29. When asked about factors influencing their college decision, attitudes toward completion, experience with remedial classes, and institutional supports and barriers, five themes emerged: (Read more.)

Via Caralee Adams, Education Week.

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Remediation: Higher Ed’s Bridge to Nowhere


Higher Ed’s Bridge to Nowhere.

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The numbers are sobering.

  • Not even 1 in 10 community college students who start in remediation will make it to graduation day in three years.
  • Just over a third of remedial students at 4-year schools will graduate in six years.

We can and must do better.

  • Learn how rebuilt college-level gateway courses can provide students the just-in-time support they need to succeed. Developmental education should be provided as a corequisite to full college credit, not a prerequisite.  

Our Alliance of States is now 30 strong.

Is your governor reinventing higher education?

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News Headlines From Community College Times

Higher Ed Groups to Examine College Completion: The nation’s six main higher education associations announced on Monday that they will convene a commission to examine how to help students stay in college and succeed.

Each of the associations—including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)—nominated members to the new Commission on Higher Education Attainment. Four community college CEOs will serve on the 18-member commission, including Eduard Padrón of Miami Dade College (Florida), Brice Harrisof the Los Rios Community College District (California), Rufus Glasper of the Maricopa Community College District (Arizona) and Gail Mellow of LaGuardia Community College (New York), who will also serve as one of the three commission co-chairs.

The presidents of the six organizations, including AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus, will serve as ex-officio members. Read more via Community College Times staff.


Colleges Address Space Crunch With Creative Solutions: Community colleges grappling with rising enrollments—and not enough money for new building projects—have come up with a variety of solutions. Many are expanding their online course offerings and some are forging facilities-based partnerships with businesses or other colleges.

Although enrollment has generally leveled off or even declined a bit in some places, many two-year colleges are trying to figure out how to deal with the soaring growth of recent years. York County Community College(YCCC) in Maine, for example, is just seven years old and experienced an enrollment increase of 103 percent in its first five years, although growth has slowed to a more manageable 1.4 percent this year. Read more via Ellie Ashford.


New Buildings, Renovations Continue Despite Tight Budgets:  In Illinois, the College of DuPage (COD) is getting a major facelift. New buildings are going up as older buildings undergo massive renovation. It’s a project years in the making and has a price tag of nearly half a billion dollars.

Despite the downturn in the economy, updating the campus is something the community has supported—twice. In 2002, voters approved a $183-million referendum. Then, last November, they approved another referendum, this time for $168 million. The college also received a $25-million earmark from the state for construction.

“People understood that investing in the College of DuPage was investing in their future,” said COD President Robert Breuder. Read more via Tabitha Whissemore.


Education Department to Open Clearinghouse on Student Success: The U.S. Department of Educationplans to start a clearinghouse for colleges to share their practices on improving student success and the evidence to prove it.

Speaking to the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges on Tuesday, U.S. Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter said that in a “month or two” the department will invite higher education institutions to submit their strategies for student success and evidence to show they work, noting that there will be an initial basic validation of submissions. Read more via Matthew Dembicki.

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Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success

The American higher education system is plagued by two chronic problems: dropouts and debt. Barely half of the students who start college get a degree within six years, and graduation rates at less-selective colleges often hover at 25 percent or less. At the same time, student loan debt is at an all-time high, recently passing credit card debt in total volume. Loan default rates have risen sharply in recent years, consigning a growing number of students to years of financial misery. In combination, drop-outs and debt are a major threat to the nation’s ability to help students become productive, well-educated citizens.

The federal government has tracked these issues separately by calculating for each college the total number of degrees awarded, the percentage of students who graduate on time, and the percentage of students who default on their loans. While each of these statistics provides valuable information, none shows a complete picture.

In Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success, Education Sector has created a new, comprehensive measure, the “borrowing-to-credential ratio.” For each college, authors Kevin Carey and Erin Dillon have taken newly available U.S. Department of Education data showing the total amount of money borrowed by undergraduates and divided that sum by the total number of degrees awarded. The results are revealing.

Via Kevin Carey and Erin Dillon, Education Sector

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