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.

15-to-finish-logo copy

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


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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