Michigan Future Schools–-our Detroit high school initiative––has just released a report on improving college completion. Written by Patrick Cooney, our College Success Manager. Entitled “Increasing College Graduation Rates for Low-‐Income, Minority, and First-‐Gen Students: Lessons Learned from 4 Colleges That Are Doing the Work.” You can download a copy of the report here.
College completion is probably the biggest challenge facing higher education today. Too many students who enroll in four year universities and even more so community colleges do not earn a degree. This is particularly true for low income and/or minority and/or first generation students.
The Pell Institute, using longitutanal data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, report of those who enrolled in higher education in 2003 six years later only 41.6 percent of low income, first generation students had earned either a bachelors or associates degree. This compares to a still not great 74.5 percent completion rate for students who are not either low income of first generation.
As Pat’s report lays out these low completion rates for low income, minority, first generation students can be substantially improved by colleges and universities who make college completion a priority. The report provides case studies of four-best practices higher education institutions: Georgia State University, Franklin and Marshall College, University of Texas-Austin, Valencia Community College.
“The purpose of this paper is to take a hard look at the colleges that have done this work well in recent years, or are just now embarking on some promising efforts that are changing the face of the institution. We’ll look at Georgia State University, a large, comprehensive urban research university, with demographics strikingly similar to Wayne State, that has improved graduation rates by 22 percentage points over the past decade, while eliminating the graduation gap between underrepresented minority and white students. We’ll look at Franklin & Marshall College, a small liberal arts school that, over the past five years, has gone from a small, regional college with very few poor students, to a national leader in the effort to attract, retain, and graduate high-‐ achieving, low-‐income students from across the country. We’ll look at the University of Texas -‐ Austin, an elite flagship state college that doesn’t have elite graduation rates, and the university’s recent efforts to improve outcomes, particularly for the relatively large number of Pell eligible and minority students they serve. And we’ll look at Valencia College in Florida, a two-‐year community college whose outcomes beat the national expectations for community colleges on just about every metric.
What we find is that some common elements emerge in the approach taken by these colleges, including
- A focus on data on a whole range of student outcomes. In all of the case studies below, the first step in reform centers around getting precise data on who is struggling, where they’re struggling, and why.
- Proactive interventions. Partly as a result of analyzing the data, the colleges and universities in the case studies are proactive, rather than reactive, in the supports they offer. These institutions don’t wait for students to struggle, but instead already know who is most likely struggle and where they’re most likely to struggle, and then offer academic, social, and financial supports to those students and in those areas, from day one.
- Pilot, then expand. In all of the case studies, we find a willingness on the part of the college or university to try new things. It often seems like the schools are creating new programs on the fly, in response to the data. They then evaluate those efforts, and look to expand the successful ones.
- Mindsets matter. And finally, in the case studies we find that all institutions not only offer supports, but also are mindful of how those supports impact student mindsets. Many low-‐income, minority, and first-‐gen students may enter college pre-‐disposed to doubt themselves: do I really belong here, and can I do the work?i These institutions acknowledge this, and constantly try to send the message in their interventions that the students do belong there, and that they can do the work.
- Leadership and commitment. In each case, the president of the institution provides the vision to make student retention and success, particularly for low-‐ income and minority students, a campus-‐wide priority. And reflecting that vision, the institution makes the staffing changes needed to reflect that priority, creating new positions and offices particularly designed to encourage the success of low-‐income and minority students.”