Time Is the Enemy of College Completion
April 04, 2012
First of two parts
Students who go straight from high school, move to a residential college and graduate in four years may fit our image of the traditional college student, but they are, in fact, far from typical. In reality, only one-fourth of post-secondary students attend school full-time in this manner; the remaining 75 percent are commuting students who work hard to balance their studies with work and family obligations.
While we will always encourage anyone serious about pursuing a college education to do so, time is the enemy of college completion. Part-time students are far less likely to graduate than full-time students, even when they take twice as long to finish their degree programs. Students requiring remedial classes (which do not earn college credit) are much less likely to graduate than their colleagues who arrive at college prepared for college-level work.
Too much choice and too little guidance can mean too many students hop between majors, earning excess credits, and extending their college careers but ultimately reducing their likelihood of graduating at all.
Chances for college success among transfer, minority, older, and low income students are even slimmer.
Funding has historically been tied directly to enrollment so the more students registered the more money a school received. But is a student headcount the best way to measure a college’s success? A more appropriate metric it seems would be to measure the number of students who complete a degree program and leave with a meaningful credential in hand.
We don’t just need more students to go to college; we need more students to stay in college and graduate from college. My goal for all students is to see them walk across our stage with a degree in hand.
This renewed emphasis on retaining students, having them progress through an academic program and graduate with a diploma in hand means that we’re doing things differently at Dalton State. In this column and the next, I will lay out our plans for helping more of our students succeed in college and leave here with the education they need and a diploma to hang on the wall.
Beginning this fall, we will be more selective in the students we admit. If a student has virtually no chance of graduating, is it fair for them to even begin? As an access institution we have to balance carefully a student’s ability to come to college with their ability to succeed when they get here. We are doing more to screen effectively to ensure that students are starting in the right program, at the right place.
What else are we doing to ensure that more of the students who enroll at Dalton State actually graduate from Dalton State?
Our Near Peer program offers select high school students intensive instruction in math, writing, and reading so that they’ll be better prepared for college work and less likely to require remediation when they get to college. In addition, these students are paired with mentor students from Dalton State who educate them on the realities of college life, tour them around campus, and show them how to apply to college. Students who have participated in Near Peer have achieved dramatic improvement in college readiness and the program is being held up as a model across the state.
Our Summer Bridge program is an annual program for about 100 admitted that also prepares incoming students for the realities of college life and also offers academic enhancement courses in core areas such as math, reading, and writing again with the hope of reducing the amount of remediation necessary during the academic year.
Middle and high school students in our Summer Academy receive specific supplemental instruction classes in math, science, English, and social studies with the goal of helping them (mostly students for whom English is a second language) pass these subject areas in high school. Complementary goals are to help the students and their families to become more aware of the value of attaining higher education and completing college.
We will consider other solutions as well, such as embedding remediation into regular college courses to help students get a jump start on earning college credit. We will also recommend other metrics by which we believe college success should be measured and to which funding should be tied.
As I said earlier, we’re going to be doing things differently at Dalton State. But in the end, if it means that more students who come here are ultimately more successful, then we all win.
Next month: new strategies Dalton State will undertake to encourage college completion.