Graduation rates

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Mitt Romney singled out the university while praising for-profits as cost-effective. Full Sail graduates 78 percent of its students, but is it really the better value Romney suggested?

Improving Graduation Rates Is Job One at City Colleges of Chicago

City Colleges of Chicago have a 7 percent graduation rate. If that number doesn't go up, the system's chancellor, presidents and trustees could lose their jobs.

Texas business group's billboard campaign on completion rates

Texas Association of Business goes after community college graduation rates with a campaign that was influenced by Complete College America.

State budget cuts make completion goals difficult for community colleges

Citing severe state budget woes, community college leaders are pessimistic about the feasibility of the push to graduate more students, survey finds.

Newly launched degree programs struggle to produce graduates at scale

A large number of recently launched degree programs fail to graduate many students. Is poor planning to blame?

Completion Rates Flat Over All

National completion rates have plateaued, and community college completion rates decreased, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The six-year completion rate for those who started college in 2014 is up by only 0.3 percent, bringing it to 60.1 percent, the center found. The national eight-year completion rate fell by 0.5 percentage points to 61.3 percent -- the first decline in years.

Increases in the six-year completion rate had been slowing for years, according to a news release. Between the 2010 and 2011 cohorts, the improvement was 2.2 percentage points. That fell to 1.4 percentage points between the 2012 and 2013 cohorts.

Adult completion rates are generally increasing, said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the center, in a news release. But completion rates for traditional-age students are plateauing, and those students made up the majority of the 2014 cohort.

Completion rates for four-year college are doing better than those of community colleges. Community colleges were the only type of institution to see an overall drop, of 0.5 percentage points, in the six-year completion rate. Completion rates for Hispanic community college students who were older declined by 2.2 percentage points, and those who delayed entry saw the largest decline at 4.8 percentage points. Completion rates for Asian community college students increased by 1.3 percentage points.

Completion rates at public four-year colleges improved by 0.7 percentage points, and rates at private nonprofit four-year colleges improved by 0.2 percentage points. Completion rates for Black students at public four-years increased by one percentage point.

For-profit four-year colleges improved the most, with a 3.1-percentage-point gain in completion rates.

It's unlikely that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected this year's six- and eight-year completion rates, the report states.

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Closing Equity Gaps at Regional Cohorts of Colleges

EAB, a college consulting firm, this week announced the creation of a project to close equity gaps for students within regional cohorts of community colleges and four-year institutions. The first consortium is located in Wisconsin. EAB said six other groups of regional colleges are in the works.

"We'll have multiple regions across the country coming together," said Tom Sugar, EAB's vice president of partnerships. "This is a 10-year goal."

The first cohort of the Moon Shot for Equity program features the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Carthage College and the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. The institutions will work together to try to help more underrepresented students of color and other historically underserved populations graduate from college. They will get research, technology and advising from EAB, and guidance from experts at Georgia State University and Houston GPS. The colleges and universities also will partner with local high schools and community-based organizations to help more underserved students attend college and receive scholarships and other resources.

“More than one dozen schools in Houston decided just a few short years ago to work toward a similar shared goal,” Paula Short, senior vice chancellor of the University of Houston system and senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Houston, said in a written statement. “Much progress has been made at Houston GPS inaugural institutions toward improving student success outcomes. Across two-year and four-year institutions, graduation rates and retention rates have increased, first-year course completion has risen, and students are graduating with fewer excess credits."

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Report: Community colleges need to use more than traditional metrics for success

Community colleges serve a diverse array of students who tend to need more supports outside the classroom. But the typical success measurements in higher education don't capture any of that.

The long-term success of a wider spectrum of students must be a priority for colleges during the pandemic (opinion)

As colleges pivot, delay or reverse plans for fall instruction, we risk losing sight of what is the greatest potential tragedy for higher education: millions of students have had their learning and path to their degrees disrupted, again. Low-income, first-generation and minority students are hit the hardest. And it’s not a one-and-done for the 2020-21 academic year, either. The consequences of this disruption will be with students, our society and our economy for years ahead, as the ripple effects delay degree completion or lead students to drop out.

Our mission as educators must be laser-focused on equitable, long-term student success: establishing smoother and more predictable paths to completion for a wider spectrum of students, and delivering a high-quality educational experience that encourages persistence and engagement. We have an opportunity to effect real change and drive toward a greater level of inclusion and student success in the aftermath of this pandemic -- if only we have the will to do so.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show us that, even pre-pandemic, the degree achievement rate for all students nationally was only about 62 percent. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt and graphics editor Sahil Chinoy have called it “The College Dropout Crisis.” And lower-income students fare far worse, with only a 21 percent chance of earning a degree in six years.

Coronavirus now further threatens students’ ability to complete college: poor online course experiences in the spring, family income loss and other negative consequences are all taking a toll on students’ ability or willingness to pursue their educational plans. For students of color, low-income and first-generation students, the persistent gap in educational attainment is likely to widen again. Research shows us that, once disrupted, vulnerable students are less likely to get back on track toward achieving their degree. There is simply less flexibility for uncertain circumstances, and less cushion for students to cover gap years, unpaid internships and time missed.

Richard Whitmer, author of The B.A. Breakthrough: How Ending Diploma Disparities Can Change the Face of America, wrote about these trends in The Hill in June. “At stake here is the fate of tens of thousands of students, most of them low-income and minority, who only recently started achieving the only kind of progress that matters, which is not just enrolling in college but graduating,” he wrote. “Given the overwhelming evidence that only a bachelor’s degree is likely to lift students who grew up in the lowest-income families to middle-income levels, these setbacks will tear at our social fabric for generations.”

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that a one-year delay in starting college may cost students $90,000 in lifetime income. The pandemic has made a college degree even more valuable, greatly increasing the employment gap between high school graduates and those who earn a four-year degree.

When I announced in mid-July that our university would conduct all fall instruction and co-curricular activity online, mine was an outlier voice. At the time, fewer than 10 percent of colleges were choosing that path, with most institutions opting for some in-person and hybrid course activity. But we were acutely aware that clarity, consistency of direction and a focus on quality online engagement are essential factors for our students to have an equitable experience in an academic year that will be like no other. The well-being of our community and equity across that community have been foundational guiding principles in our decision making.

We look forward to our return to campus when it is safe to do so. But in the meantime, the journey we at Simmons University have been on since the sudden shutdown in the spring may offer some lessons that go beyond the short-term crisis, as we work to close the educational attainment gap and keep more students on track toward their goals and the future opportunities they deserve.

Lean into innovation with high-quality online instruction. In this unpredictable year, the best and steadiest way to support student success is to create quality online learning that is widely accessible and can be conducted without interruption. After the challenging 2020 spring semester ended, Simmons faculty began work to reimagine and redesign 300 undergraduate courses for consistent, effective, synchronous and asynchronous delivery focused on successful learning outcomes.

This was a massive undertaking with two goals in mind: ensure a high-quality educational experience online for fall 2020 instruction, should it be necessary, and build a completely online Simmons undergraduate program for adult learners who, for whatever reason, cannot access a full residential experience. Done right, online learning provides a quality alternative for students who are not in a position to afford or interrupt their lives for a traditional, residential college education. Instead, it provides multiple paths to an undergraduate degree, one that allows students to tailor their education to fit into the lives they have, wherever they are.

Support the whole student with caring co-curricular activity. Research on students’ feelings of social isolation, on top of the heightened anxiety brought on by the one-two punch of pandemic and stark societal injustice, demonstrates how much of a toll the pandemic is taking. Finding ways for students to make meaningful connections in our socially distanced and virtual environments is crucial. Student life and student support services teams must design creative opportunities for co-curricular engagement, mental health support and peer-to-peer connectivity as we move through pandemic.

We know, too, that this is not a time to sit on the sideline: we can help students develop inclusive leadership skills and stay civically engaged in service to their communities. Importantly, let’s learn from the experience we are gaining now: we can assess what works and what does not, identify best practices, and develop the next generation of holistic student support for students whether studying in person, in a hybrid model or fully online.

Develop highly sensitive financial aid support systems. This is no time for a financial aid runaround. The pandemic’s long-term effect on the economy cannot yet be known, but what we do know is that lower-income families and families of color are disproportionately suffering short-term financial consequences, which may lead to long-term harm. We know well that families and students perceive higher ed’s financial aid formulas and calculations as confusing gobbledygook and a barrier to understanding a college education’s true costs. These concerns are now on overdrive. Our financial aid teams must be sensitive to families’ changing circumstances and as responsive as possible to their concerns. Now is the time, too, to simplify and clarify processes for a more family-friendly experience over all.

Stop the institution-centric thing: it’s about student, family and community well-being. I have been thinking a great deal about the empathy necessary to lead in the midst of, and in the aftermath of, this crisis. Let’s face it: we’re all burned out. It’s not just our students carrying a heavy emotional burden these days. Our faculty, our staff and our alumni have all had it.

We need to move out of the institutional bubbles we build for ourselves in the marathon hours of Zoom leadership team meetings, and instead put ourselves in the shoes of our community members. I come from the African American tradition of valuing kinship networks, where we lift as we climb and we do what we can to build support networks for one another. Gallup’s well-being framework identifies five dimensions we need to feel secure about in order to thrive: career, social, financial, community and physical. Each of these has been especially strained during this time, and each needs care and attention. As we move through and past COVID-19, I hope we will put community well-being at the heart of our work. After all, we cannot fulfill our mission of student success and societal good unless each of us can bring our best self to the work at hand.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. During the pandemic, colleges have to communicate more clearly, more frequently and with more heart than many were used to. And you know what? It works. We need robust, multichannel, two-way communication with stakeholders. We have to be clear and consistent, anticipating concerns and encouraging feedback and input. As we are learning, we have to be agile in our communications, too: we are building the bridge as we cross it. Finally, let’s check that institutional tone at the door. Our outreach must be humane and empathic as we help students, families and the whole of our community stay on track toward their goals.

If we can master these skills during the pandemic, we will have helped all our students at a time when they face enormous obstacles. But we will also have created a better and more just educational setting for the future -- one that welcomes young people who have historically been turned away, meets them where they are, accounts for the particular conditions they face and helps them to a successful outcome. We all claim that as a goal. We have the chance, now, to make it a reality.

Lynn Perry Wooten is president of Simmons University.

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Latinos' Degree Completion Increases; Equity Gaps Remain

College degree attainment among Latinos has increased substantially in recent years, according to a new analysis from Excelencia in Education. The nonprofit group found that 24 percent of Latino adults in the U.S. now hold a college degree, up from 19 percent a decade ago. Yet equity gaps remain. For example, 46 percent of white, non-Latino adults hold a degree -- a gap of 22 percentage points with Latinos.

Latino representation in K-12 schools and higher education also has grown across the U.S. -- one in five students enrolled in higher education is Latino, according to the analysis.

However, equity gaps also persist in graduation rates. The group said Latinos graduate from community colleges at a rate that is 2 percentage points lower than white students, and 12 percentage points lower at four-year institutions.

"This analysis shows the progress Latinos were making nationally, and in every state, DC and Puerto Rico, before the pandemic," Deborah Santiago, Excelencia in Education's co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. "Now is the time to intensify our commitment to serving students and addressing the longstanding inequities more publicly visible. The current crisis has put another spotlight on why we must increase the number of doctors, scientists, educators, civic leaders and other workforce professionals from the growing and young Latino population."

The top colleges and universities in enrolling and awarding college degrees to Latinos are concentrated geographically, the analysis found, with institutions in California, Texas and Florida leading the way.

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