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A new report by California Competes, a nonpartisan research organization, identifies “promising practices” being implemented at state institutions to bolster support for “comebackers”—nontraditional learners who re-enrolled after stopping out. 

The report’s findings, released today, were drawn from 50 interviews with students and staff who’ve participated in a degree-attainment initiative called CaliforniaAttain! It analyzes which institutional strategies helped these students earn their degrees upon returning to college and suggests how institutions across the state can foster similar approaches.

“The existing framework of higher education demands a reassessment, as it often fails to accommodate the realities of students’ lives,” said Su Jin Jez, CEO of California Competes. “The struggles brought to light through the student interviews emphasize that we really need to rethink California’s higher education structures, not just for the benefit of those who stopped out … but for the broader college-going population.”

The report recommends using inclusive marketing materials and language in outreach efforts, waiving application and re-enrollment fees, offering credit for prior learning, increasing flexible learning modalities and structures, reframing academic probation, providing orientation tailored for returning students, and expanding adult-focused advising.

A similar initiative, known as California Reconnect, released its own data in December, which also showed early signs of success.