Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Moving in reducing or eliminating any barrier

Moving the Needle on
College Completion 

            While college affordability and the “free college”
movement remains at the top of the agenda in higher education, with drop rates at
nearly half at many four-year institutions and two-year colleges, there can be
no dispute that resolving the completion issue would produce more graduates
than resolving the affordability issue.  Although
there is no easy answer in making college free or the completion challenge, we
need to make sure that each matriculating student leaves college with a valued
credential.

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 Across the country, college students are
enrolling in record numbers, but they are also dropping out in alarming rates.  Every year, an astonishing number of students
drop out of college, whether they are first-year students or within a semester
or two of graduation.  Even worse,
student may have accrued student loan debt, but don’t have a degree that can
lead to a better paying job that helps them repay that debt. 

College
students face many roadblocks to completion. 
The policies and procedures in higher education as well as the structure
and organization of individual institutions make it difficult to help students
overcome those roadblocks.  There are
four major barriers that colleges and universities need to address: course
scheduling conflicts, insufficient academic support services, lengthy remedial
education and academic advising.  In
addressing these issues, it is critical that colleges and universities not only
evaluate their academic and student services, but they must also listen to the
voice of their students to make progress in reducing or eliminating any barrier
that may impede with student success and completion.

In
addressing scheduling conflicts, it is important that college and universities
offer classes that are accessible for all students.  Being accessible means offering courses from
morning to evening, weekend classes as well as online courses. In my experience
in working at community-colleges as well as four-year universities, most
community colleges are excellent at addressing the flexibility that students need,
however some four-year college and universities cater to the traditional
full-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, so
students can get to the finish line. 
Many students today must work, have families, financial responsibilities
and may worry about a place to live.  Despite the changing student body, many
four-year college and universities continue to operate on a traditional higher
education model of only offering courses in certain semesters.  In this model if a student fails a course and
needs to repeat it, they may have to wait an entire semester or year before
they can repeat it.  When planning course
offerings, academic departments need to make sure they are making student
centered decisions and not just making decisions based on what is best for specific
staff members.  If college and
universities do not offer courses when students need them it will affect their
progression through a major and potentially their college career.  It is imperative for university administrators
to make student student-centered decisions that will create accessibility and
promote student success. 

Many
colleges and universities are lacking in academic support services for students.  Many students struggle in key subjects and
need academic assistance.  College and
universities need to make sure that they have enough staff in the tutoring
center to offer tutoring for all key subjects that cause students to struggle
and drop out of their program and eventually the university.  It is critical that tutoring services are
offered for all students, throughout the day, evening and weekends; not just
available for the full-time college students that attend class during the
day.  Providing additional academic
assistance will lead to improved academic performance.  As a solution, it’s important that the
university collects data (drop/withdraw/fail rates) on the students’
performance in specific courses, so they can adjust academic support services
as necessary.

A
popular trend in higher education today is for academic departments to reduce
or eliminate remedial courses so the students can take the college level
courses right away.  In my professional
experience in higher education, I have seen some universities have a very
lengthy remedial education curriculum which delays a students’ progression
through their program.  Students must pay
for the non-credited remedial courses, however do not receive any credit for
the courses.  Although most students
agree they can use the extra work in the subject areas, they are frustrated
because it can interfere with their plan to graduate or transfer to a four-year
university.  In my experience at my current
institution (four-year public university), the Division of Academic Affairs
implemented a student success course initiative (SSCI).  The idea of this new initiative it to
eliminate the remedial courses and allow the students to take the college level
course, however there is a one credit recitation added to the course for
additional academic support.  In this
way, the student can earn college credits for the course, satisfy a course
requirement and still receive the academic support they need.  All colleges and universities must create
course initiatives that will allow students to progress through their program
while still promoting student success.   

An
effective way to help student stay on track to graduate and complete their
program is to offer proactive academic advising.  College and universities should have
mandatory academic advising on their campuses for undergraduate students.  Academic Advising offices can help student
create academic plans to graduate on-time and complete their degree.  Advising offices can also create checkpoints
throughout to make sure students are reaching all the stop point necessary to
complete the degree on time.  In
addition, the Advising Offices should implement early academic warning
interventions.  In the past, advising
offices would wait until a student drops below a 2.0 gpa before any intervention
was done.  Advising Offices must be more
proactive in addressing students that are struggling academically.  Don’t just wait for the students to fall
below the 2.0 however have an earlier mark and intervene.  At my current institution, we have a
benchmark of 2.3 gpa, so when a student hits the gpa, we reach out to the
students to see how we can intervene and find out what support services they
need.  Early intervention is an attempt
to help the student change a pattern of behavior that may be detrimental to
their success.  Proactive academic
advising is a retention tool that will promote student success and improve
completion. 

It is
crucial that colleges and universities understand their student
population.  It is also very important
that university administrators listen to their students and make
student-centered decisions that will lead to completion.  University administrators need to think
outside of the box and be proactive in creating and implementing campus wide
initiatives that will be most beneficial for students in leading to completion.
 While I agree with activists and members
of our society in the pursuit of free college, we need to eliminate barriers to
student success so current students in higher education can make it to the
finish line. 

 

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