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Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Rhode Island Governor Thinking Big About College Completion and Affordability

We’ve all seen the statistics: 42 million Americans now carry student loan debt, a daunting economic anchor that totals 1.3 trillion dollars for borrowers. And here in Rhode Island, students graduate with more than $35,000 on average in student loan debt – the second highest amount in the country.

It is a crisis we must address, but as Complete College America has asserted on many occasions, affordability initiatives must go further than simply providing tuition-free college; efforts must instead be designed to ensure students actually complete their degrees and enter the workforce. In other words, scholarship programs must be built for completion.

Fortunately for Rhode Islanders, Governor Raimondo is thinking big about how to address these challenges, providing leadership that is focused not just on affordability, but also on her goals of “radically increasing the number of college graduates in the state” and ensuring residents have the opportunity to compete in a 21st Century economy.

“Rhode Island may be our nation’s smallest state, but Governor Raimondo is setting a big example for leaders around the nation.”

Unlike many other free-college proposals, Governor Raimondo’s plan, which would cover the cost of a two-year degree or half the cost of a four-year degree, includes eligibility requirements that illustrate an uncommon and outsized understanding of what it will take for Rhode Island to produce more graduates and reduce costs in the process. Simply put, this plan may be the best we’ve seen.

The fact is that far too few students, even those considered full time, take the number of credits needed each year to graduate on time. The result: community college students in Rhode Island take an average of four years to earn their two-year degree, and students at four-year institutions often take an extra semester. That extra time on campus means thousands of dollars more in tuition and fees, room and board, debt, and foregone wages. And that’s just for the students who make it to graduation day; many will drop out, racking up debt without the benefits of obtaining a college degree.

Under Governor Raimondo’s plan, student success and completion are the priority. Four-year students would be required to complete 60 credits by the end of their sophomore year in order to receive the tuition waiver – a smart move considering research shows that students who take at least 30 credits per year have higher GPAs, better retention rates, and an increased likelihood of completing their degrees.

Four-year students would also be required to declare a major prior to eligibility in the program. We know that the more credits students take within their program of study, and the earlier they do so, the more momentum they have heading toward graduation. Rather than meandering through coursework and racking up excess credits, students would be incentivized to get on track, stay on track, and ultimately graduate.

For community college students, eligibility would also require full-time attendance, and data from around the country makes clear why: part-time students are far less likely to complete their degrees, even when given double the time to do so. If Rhode Island wants more graduates, more students need to attend full time.

Let’s be clear, though: students aren’t the only ones who need to change their behavior. Institutions must also take steps to ensure on-time completion is the norm and not the exception on their campuses. They can do this by changing the way they deliver remedial education, providing clear and timely academic pathways that lead to a degree, structuring schedules so that students can go full-time even if they are balancing a family and work with school, and giving students the support and guidance needed to reach their goals. Accordingly, any additional tax dollars provided to institutions for implementation of this plan must be tied to real changes like these that are proven to produce more graduates.

Rhode Island may be our nation’s smallest state, but Governor Raimondo is setting a big example for leaders around the nation. More important, she is providing Rhode Island taxpayers more bang for their hard-earned buck: college educations that are more affordable and more likely.

posted by Tom Sugar

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Monday, March 30, 2015
Building a Culture of Timely Graduation: The Story of Purdue University Calumet

In his first post for the blog, Complete College America Vice President Dhanfu Elston, who previously served as Executive Director for Student Success and Transition at Purdue University Calumet, shares how he and his colleagues implemented CCA’s Game Changers to drastically improve the number of Purdue Calumet students who are on track for timely completion.

Since the launch of the Complete College America “Game Changer” strategies at Purdue University Calumet, the university has more than doubled the percentage of students enrolled in 15+ credits during their first semester (27% in 2012 to 66% in 2014). Fall 2014 retention for first-time, full-time students increased by 4.7 percentage points. Overall, more students are on track to complete on time, and Calumet is better positioned for long-term sustainability in student success.

Complete College America’s publication, Time is the Enemy, highlighted the critical importance of evaluating students’ progress and time to graduation. Administrators at Purdue University Calumet utilized this information to reframe conversations with students and parents and showcase the potential return on investment when we make on-time graduation a priority.

About: Purdue University Calumet (PUC) is a Carnegie-classified public master’s university, with an undergraduate enrollment of 8,600 students and a six-year graduation rate of 31%. Purdue Calumet has long supported a population of typically-underserved students, including first-generation, commuter, low socio-economic status, and racial minorities.

The Challenge: Similar to other institutions that serve large populations of underserved populations, PUC faced hurdles when encouraging students to enroll in the number of credits necessary to promote persistence and completion of a four-year college degree. We know that students struggle in attempts to balance off-campus work requirements and family commitments. These challenges, along with a lack of campus cultural competencies, are serious contributors to attrition. However, university administrators at Purdue Calumet recognized opportunities to teach students and their parent/supporters the potential for a higher return on their college investment by following established plans for graduation.

The Solution: Utilizing multiple Complete College America (CCA) “Game Changer” strategies, Purdue Calumet integrated behavioral-based interventions and institutional-level policies into plans for student retention and increased enrollment in credit hours. Below are the steps for the comprehensive institutional plan:

Step 1: In Spring 2013, consistent with the CCA Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) model and a legislative mandate from the Indiana Commission of Higher Education, Purdue Calumet created four-year degree maps (“whole programs of study”) for every academic major.

Step 2: The Game Changer strategy “Fifteen to Finish” was incorporated into a mandatory New Student Orientation that included student and parents/supporters. Clear, introductory messages were relayed via oral and written communication related to the importance of enrolling in 15 credit hours. For many of the first-generation students, they were surprised to learn that a summer semester was not punitive and could be used toward accumulating 30 credit hours per academic year. A component of the initiative that resonated was the potential return on investment for graduating on time – for example, by graduating in 4 years rather than 5, students could save thousands of dollars in tuition and fees, room and board, transportation and other expenses.

Step 3: During the registration portion of New Student Orientation, the PUC Fall 2013 incoming student cohort received the four-year degree plan for their intended major of study. A number of academic Colleges put students in block schedules of 15 credit hours. The “opt-out versus opt-in” strategy provided students flexibility in scheduling based on life and work demands; however, most students chose to stay enrolled in the 15 credit hour schedule.

Step 4: Through GPS “intrusive advising,” academic advisors reinforced the “Fifteen to Finish” messages. A comprehensive marketing campaign continued beyond New Student Orientation and throughout the academic year.

Fifteen to Finish is one of the multiple CCA strategies that have the potential to change the lives of college students and reshape the culture of student success on campuses. For administrators, faculty, and advisors at institutions that serve large populations of underrepresented students, “Fifteen to Finish” is a strategy that can be easily and quickly implemented. Most importantly, it establishes the bar for completion that can reap dividends that not only benefit students through better stewardship of existing funds, but increased credit accumulation that can stabilize college enrollments. As Vice President of CCA, I look forward to further elevating the national college completion agenda and utilizing my institutional-level experiences and knowledge of Game Changer strategies to assist States, systems, and institutions in practical implementation and scaling of existing and new initiatives.

posted by Dhanfu Elston

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