According to Complete College America, the number of students who are enrolling in college is on the rise. Yet, the percentage of those who are graduating from their programs has remained relatively unchanged. In conducting its research, the nonprofit organization focused on 33 states and the graduation rates of students pursuing a variety of different types of degree and certificate programs.
In every state that was examined within the study, the figures are quite disheartening. In Texas, for example, 79 percent of students who enrolled in a public college started at a community college. For every 79 students who enrolled in a community college, only 2 earned a two-year degree on time and only 7 earned a degree in four years. Of the 21 out of 100 who enrolled in a four-year college, only 5 graduated on time and only 13 earned a degree after eight years.
While colleges and universities have been criticized for their poor graduation rates, others maintain that the federal statistics typically do not paint an accurate picture. Not only do these statistics fail to recognize those who are enrolled part-time, but they also do not accurately track those who transfer to a different school.
“It’s really, really hard to get your hands on completion rates for nontraditional students,” said Judith Scott-Clayton of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, in a recent New York Times article. “If somebody pops in and takes a community college class and they don’t finish, you don’t know whether they were ever planning to get a degree.”
According to the Complete College America report, however, approximately 4 out of 10 public college students attend school on a part-time basis. Yet, no more than one-quarter of these students ever graduate from their programs.
“We know they enroll, but we don’t know what happens to them,” said Stan Jones, who is the president of Complete College America. “We shouldn’t make policy based on the image of students going straight from high school to college, living on campus, and graduating four years later, when the majority of college students don’t do that.”
According to experts, there are several student demographics that are particularly at risk of failure to earn a degree in six years when attending college on a part-time basis. These include older students, Pell Grant recipients, black students and Hispanic students. Furthermore, those students who have to take noncredit remedial classes are less likely to graduate on time, if at all. Even those who graduated from high school with a 3.0 or higher are frequently required to take remedial classes before they can move on to credit-bearing coursework.
“Time is the enemy of college completion,” noted the Complete College America report. “The longer it takes, the more life gets in the way of success.”
To address this issue, the report recommends providing financial incentives to push colleges toward achieving higher completion rates. Other strategies highlighted by the report include embedding remedial instruction within the curriculum rather than requiring separate courses, creating block courses and developing predictable schedules for students who are seeking the same type of credentialing. The report goes on to praise the 27 Technology Centers in Tennessee, which boast a completion rate of 75 percent. Rather than having students sign up for individual courses, they enroll in a program that meets Monday through Friday for 7 hours per day and ends no later than 3:00 pm each day. The programs include a foundation course, in which students learn the skills necessary for the program.
“A student might come in not knowing why they need to learn trigonometry, but when they’re studying machine technology or drafting technology, they’ll see why, and I think that helps,” said carol Puryear, who is the director of the Tennessee Technology Center located in Murfreesboro. “Our mission is really work force development and about 85 percent of them get a job when they graduate.”
The report also cites the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which has achieved graduation rates that are three times greater than that of students who do not participate in the program. Through this program, students participate in block scheduling and participate in student cohorts in addition to other support measures.
How would you recommend increasing college graduation rates? Is more financial aid the answer, or should schools look for more creative ways to address the academic and social needs of their students?