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Friday, January 13, 2017
New York Governor’s Free-College Plan Needs Improvement to Boost ROI

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new plan to make college more affordable for middle- and low-income New Yorkers is commendable, but it doesn’t go far enough in solving the more pressing challenge in higher education: When students get to college, far too few actually complete their degrees. To get the greatest bang for the state’s buck, the Governor should be using the leverage of public investment – dollars from hard-working taxpayers – to ensure the state isn’t just putting more students in seats, but also getting them to graduation day.

Affordability matters. It affects whether or not students go to college and how long they stick around when they get there, but data from around the country reveal that time, not tuition, is the more menacing barrier to college completion. Simply put, the longer it takes to graduate, the more life gets in the way and the less likely students are to ever complete their degrees.

Today’s college students are especially susceptible to this harsh reality, often commuting to campus while balancing jobs, school and family responsibilities. Their lives are complicated, and our higher education system has done too little to adjust to that complexity. Rather than a clear and direct route to a degree, students face unpredictable course scheduling, broken transfer policies, long sequences of non-credit-bearing remedial courses, and an overwhelming number of choices about their programs of study.

All this adds up to a number of startling facts: Less than half of U.S. college students graduate. For those who do, it takes, on average, nearly four years to complete a 2-year associate’s degree and approximately five years to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Ultimately, students don’t just need financial relief when it comes to higher education, they need a better deal altogether – one that provides a system of higher education committed to their success.

The good news is Governor Cuomo has shown he understands that time is the enemy of college completion by requiring all participants in the Excelsior Scholarship program to attend school full time – a move that dramatically increases students’ likelihood of success. Further, institutions in New York are already setting a powerful example of how college completion strategies and structural changes can ensure we better serve students and help them get to graduation day.

The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, known as ASAP, has doubled graduation rates by putting students in streamlined schedules and providing them greater levels of advising and other supports throughout the academic journey.

CUNY’s Guttman Community College has boosted completion rates, especially for underrepresented populations, by using prescribed academic maps and enrolling “underprepared” students directly into college-level math and English courses with support, rather than placing them in costly, no-credit traditional remedial classes.

The State University of New York System has also begun engaging with Complete College America to explore strategies that boost completion rates and reduce the time it takes to earn a degree. As conversations continue around remediation reform and the use of schedules that help students balance work and school, it is clear the state system has got an eye on college completion.

Money focuses minds, and the governor has an opportunity to not only throw open the doors of higher education to more New Yorkers, but to provide an educational structure that is designed for their success. He can start by taking these home-grown, effective strategies and bringing them to scale throughout the state of New York. Don’t just give tax dollars to institutions based on the noble idea of more students in college, back it up with the actions needed to attain higher completion rates and provide a stronger economy in the Empire State.

If Governor Cuomo is serious about creating opportunity for New Yorkers and addressing some of our nation’s most pressing economic challenges, his focus cannot be solely on access. New York needs more college success, too. It is our hope that Governor Cuomo will reimagine his good idea to make it transformative for the future of New York, setting an example for America to follow.

posted by Tom Sugar

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Helping the “New Majority” Graduate

Only 25% of today’s college students live at a residential campus and attend school full-time; the rest are engaged in delicate and exhausting balancing acts, often juggling courses, jobs and family obligations while commuting to campus. Their schedules are often chaotic, changing every semester and straining relationships with employers. As a result, 40% of all American college students can only manage part-time enrollment, lengthening their time in college and increasing the likelihood that they’ll accumulate debt without earning a degree.

All across the country, the numbers tell the same story: most part-time students will never graduate. Complete College America’s Game Changers are designed to ensure this new majority can succeed in spite of their busy lives, and our strategies can make a big difference for part-time students. structure copy 1The greatest help we can provide is to offer greater predictability, especially when we consider many students have to work to afford school. Structured schedules – for example, going to school every day from 8 a.m. to noon or from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. – provide the daily certainty that allows easier job scheduling and removes the need for semester-by-semester negotiations with employers and child care providers. With structured schedules, many more students could attend full-time, doubling their likelihood for success. The CUNY ASAP model and the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are great examples of structured schedules for students in certificate or associate degree programs. (Check out our webinar on structured schedules this Wed at 2 pharmacy online pm EST.) In both Tennessee and New York, where programs have been designed to specifically meet the needs of local communities, these structural reforms have led to organic cohorts of students. These cohorts have strengthened collegial relationships among faculty, provided powerful opportunities for collaborations among students and their teachers, and created a shared mission of success that prioritizes timely completion and better outcomes for students and their communities.

15 to Finish initiatives are also helping colleges around the country ensure many more students are on-track for graduation. Thanks to this strategy at places like the University of Akron and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the majority of students are now taking the credits necessary to complete on time.

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While we see these successes at schools serving full-time students, we’re often asked if 15 to Finish can work for 2-year programs that primarily serve part-time students. The answer: absolutely. We recognize, however, that differing student populations require adapting how we approach these initiatives. For example, institutions serving large populations of part-time students should encourage accumulating 30 credits per year through year-round attendance with summer or winter terms.

Rather than accepting that part-time students do not always easily fit into the traditional systems and structures of a college education, we have to ask ourselves how we can change such structures and design initiatives to better support students in their path to completion. There may always be students who need to go part-time, but we need to find ways to lessen the number of those students who view it as their only option. The Game Changers provide the structure and predictability these students need to succeed.

posted by Julie Johnson

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Monday, March 24, 2014
Plugging the Leaks in the STEM Pipeline

The conventional wisdom is that too few students are interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and that if we could only get more students excited about science and math, we would fill our pipeline with more students who earn credentials in computer science, engineering and health care.

A recent report from ACT and new data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tell a different story. In fact, well over 40% of all new entering students either express an interest in STEM or actually choose a STEM program. The ACT survey found that among recent high school graduates who took the ACT, 48% expressed interest in a STEM major.  NCES found that 41% of new entering 4-year students and 45% of 2-year students select programs of study in STEM, including health sciences.  Even more telling, students are choosing programs that lead to high demand jobs. 4-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, and 2-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.   According to new research by Burning Glass , health sciences and informational technology are the highest demand STEM fields across the country.  The supply problem in STEM, particularly for high demand fields, is solved! Wrong.

Unfortunately, the majority of students who enter postsecondary education with aspirations to earn a credential in STEM either switch out of STEM or drop out of school altogether. Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

With these numbers, colleges are like sport fisherman – catch and release.  Any meaningful effort to produce more STEM degrees will require postsecondary education to build Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) for students into and through STEM programs. We know that many students give up on their dream of a STEM degree before the end of the first year, if not the first semester.  Students who leave STEM don’t complete college-level math and take far fewer credits in STEM courses in their first year than those who stick with STEM. Creating clearer academic maps and default schedules for new entering students that put college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in their first year plan would help.  Creating meta-majors that group various programs in similar fields and align entry level courses across those programs could allow students some freedom to explore a range of programs in their desired field instead of locking in on one too early, having it not work out and leave STEM altogether.   Finally, strong advising to help students choose a meta-major, program of study and to support students all along the way would pay huge dividends.

CCA is doing just that in four states and the District of Columbia through a grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. In addition to DC – Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Idaho postsecondary institutions are building GPS systems for high demand STEM fields in their states.  In the next 12 months, institutions from each of these projects will implement all aspects of a GPS system to better serve the high percentage of students who know that a STEM credential is the key to their future, but don’t quite know how to achieve it.

posted by Bruce Vandal

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