A report released Monday on a three-year nationwide initiative to boost education completion for students who stopped attending college before graduating calls on higher education institutions and federal, state and local to do more to attract students to university and push them to the finish line.
The Degrees When Due (DWD) initiative, led by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, or IHEP, worked with more than 200 participating colleges in 23 states between 2018 and 2021 to find ways to help students who interrupted. their studies and put them back on track to obtain diplomas or training certificates. Much of the plan focused on underserved groups — students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students and older students — and the institutions that serve them.
“We call on every institution, system and state, as well as policy makers at the federal level [to] help ensure that all students achieve their higher education goals,” the report states.
According to the authors of the 52-page report, there are 36 million students in the United States who have some college education but have not completed their studies – a category known as some college, no degree (SCND ) – and more than three million of these are “near graduates” who have taken at least two years of courses.
The DWD program has helped institutions break down barriers that prevent students from returning to college or completing their studies. These efforts involved institutions checking student transcripts to determine who already had enough credits to complete their courses and earn a degree or were close enough to completing their studies to warrant returning to college to do so. The report also revealed several reasons why students stopped their studies, including financial difficulties, the inability to go to university while working and supporting their families, and the feeling that institutions do not were not invested in or supportive of them and their situation.
The initiative has shed light on how these challenges affect students’ decisions to return to college, said Barbara Henry, assistant vice president of non-traditional and military student services at Bowling Green State University in the United States. Ohio.
“Students with a certain college, no degree need be connected,” Henry said in the report. “They have to be connected to the institution. They must be linked to a very clear pathway leading to a degree. And then they need someone every step of the way to help them. It is therefore an intense investment in human capital. But I think that’s how we’re going to make a huge difference for this student population.
These students are disproportionately from underserved populations, said Mamie Voight, president and CEO of IHEP, who noted that “about half” of students whose needs were met through initiative were people of color and 46% were from low-income backgrounds.
“The work was really about fairness,” Voight said.
The focus on these underserved populations differentiated the initiative from a wave of similar studies of returning college students published in the past six months, said Mike Krause, a longtime student advocate for return and adult learners and former executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Higher Education.
“First and foremost, serving adult learners is in itself an important aspect of closing the inequality gap,” Krause said, adding that focusing on and serving only students who have followed traditional educational pathways will not solve not the problem.
The report was “transformational in that the adult learner conversation and the equity conversation should be linked,” he said. It was “perfect and really called out important things that needed to be heard”.
Piper Hendricks, vice president of communications and external affairs at IHEP, said it was important for the report to highlight that post-secondary outcomes are inequitable.
“The fact that we are still seeing these inequitable outcomes in 2022 is unacceptable,” she said. “Inequalities have widened during the pandemic. It’s both a time to recognize inequalities and that we have the tools to correct them.
The initiative was not originally planned to last three years, but the approach changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DWD started in 2018 with 44 institutions in eight states, but changed direction and expanded its scope a year later as it encountered the challenges of funding, technology and staffing shortages facing the institutions. Leaders of the initiative have developed an online credential extraction tool, a set of strategies to make it easier for colleges to overcome outdated technology and equipment and staffing shortages that have hampered the program’s efforts to implement its plans for students.
The number of minority-serving institutions participating in the initiative grew from 11 to 45 between the first and second year, with program leaders pushing their private and public partner organizations to publicize the large number of students from disadvantaged groups that the program could help. . Institutions struggling to retain students and entice those who have left to return are often under-resourced and disproportionately serve marginalized students, Hendricks said.
“Very often we ask the institutions that have the least resources to do the most work,” she said.
The economic damage of the pandemic and the social and economic inequalities revealed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd prompted another change in direction in 2020. Other institutions joined the initiative, trying to help students who could no longer afford to go to university, who lost their jobs and did not have access to the technology needed for distance learning.
Hendricks said one of the outcomes of the initiative was to understand how the traditional narrative about the journey of a college education — going straight in out of high school, attending for four uninterrupted years, coming out with a degree — needed to be erased and rewritten.
“It’s so true – the larger narrative impacts how educators think, but it also impacts how students think,” she said.
The report recommends that institutions and governments remove barriers, such as outdated graduation requirements, financial withholdings on degrees, bureaucratic policies and requirements, and problematic technologies, that prevent students from completing their University studies. It also recommends that institutions conduct more credential audits, manage the credit transfer process themselves instead of letting students do it alone, and improve funding in several areas that would pave the way for students to let them come back and finish.
“Whether through action or inaction, failure to support today’s students limits their social and economic mobility and disadvantages us all,” the report concludes.
Voight said he has seen encouraging federal and state financial legislation proposed in recent months that would give institutions the money they need to continue the work outlined in the report.
“But these larger sums have yet to materialize, so we have continued to advocate for the level of support that we know is needed,” she said.