America’s college completion agenda is more urgent than ever. As Degreeless in Debt found, rising college prices are putting more students between a rock and a hard place: the things they do to avoid borrowing too much – like delaying enrollment, enrolling part-time, or working full-time – also make it much harder for them to complete their degrees. While controlling costs and expanding need-based aid are likely the best ways to relieve students’ pressures to adopt these strategies, neither solution can happen overnight – especially when schools are facing huge financial pressures, including historic state budget cuts. As colleges, states, and the federal government work towards those goals, there are 5 strategies colleges can take to help borrowers, and all students, from dropping out.
Since this is a problem facing all colleges, everyone should listen up.
- Rethink Remedial Courses
As my colleague Susan stated, the remedial placement process is ground zero for college non-completion. A majority of entering students at community colleges are forced to pay tuition for these non-credit classes that don’t count towards a degree. It turns out, though, that over 25% of students assigned to these classes based on placement test scores could have passed college courses with a B or higher. And while half of community colleges offer test prep materials for the placement exam, only 13% make it mandatory. Remedial classes, therefore, can unnecessarily place a financial burden on students – making it even more likely that they would enroll part-time or work full-time to pay for courses that don’t even count toward their degree. And students who enroll in remedial education are much less likely to graduate. Schools could take steps like Northern Virginia Community College, who has modularized its math requirements so students just study the areas in which they are weak.
2. Create Priority Registration
Colleges need to give students access to the classes they need, otherwise students might delay enrollment, enroll part time, or work full time. In 2010, the City College of San Francisco piloted a program to give local high school students priority registration. Of the 323 incoming students, 98% returned the 2nd semester, compared to a 75% rate before priority registration.
3. Be Intrusive
College staff and faculty should not assume that outside influences – like jobs and money issues – are the only reasons students drop out. Only 26% of entering students said a college staff member talked to them about their outside commitments to help them decide what courses to take. Staff are reluctant to impose mandatory support requirements because they assume students are stretched – thin. But these supports can have a big effect on completion. Student success classes, for example, teach study skills, time management, and how to set goals and use college resources and have positive effects. At Tulsa Community College, students are 20% more likely to remain enrolled and earn a C or better in future courses; and Durham Technical Community College reports a 30% increase in retention.
4. Reform How Financial Aid is Paid
Instead of awarding students aid as a lump sum at the beginning of every semester, two New Orleans-area colleges found better outcomes for students who received payments throughout a semester if they enrolled in college at least half time and maintained an average grade of C or better. The random assignment study found that students who received the scholarship were more likely to register full time, stay longer, and accumulate more credits towards graduation.
5. Provide Financial Literacy Instruction and Debt Management Plans
Schools should be proactive about teaching students how to manage their money, so students do not drop out due to financial stress. Additionally, federal student loan guarantors like the American Student Assistance (ASA) can help colleges identify students most at-risk for dropout, and create comprehensive default management plans. In ASA’s Transitions program, borrowers who drop out receive individualized guidance to determine a reasonable repayment plan. The program found that these students were 55% less likely to experience delinquency in the first year of repayment.