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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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Thursday, June 4, 2015
Building High-Quality Community Colleges: The Forgotten Piece

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, education columnist Jay Mathews opines that President Obama’s proposal for free community college – while well intentioned – falls short in addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing today’s students. In addition to concerns associated with tuition and fees, Matthews lays out living expenses, working while going to school, and a failed college structure as key barriers keeping students from graduation day.

Some key excerpts:

“Community colleges provide such a disorganized mess of courses with so many dead-ends that many students never get to where they want to go.” “…the push to provide as many courses for as many students as possible has backfired.” “Regular students blunder through on their own with mostly bad results. More than 80 percent of students entering community college say they plan to graduate from a four-year school. Six years later, just 15 percent have done so.”

While this is all true, a core part of the President’s proposal does, in fact, seek to address these concerns, calling for the “building [of] high-quality community colleges.” The proposal specifically states that, “colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes” – reforms like those in place at CUNY ASAP and the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology where highly-structured programs and proactive advising ensure many more students earn their degree or certificate.

The attention and dialogue around the President’s proposal – especially this often omitted element of it – provide an important opportunity to help community colleges realize their full potential and address some inherent challenges in their systems and structures. This is where the Complete College America Game Changers come in. By providing remediation as a corequisite, not a prerequisite, alongside the college-level course, we can ensure significantly more students finish their gateway courses and move into their programs of study. GPS provides the backbone of highly-structured programs by creating default pathways, clear academic maps, and implementation of intrusive advising to help students find the most direct path to graduation. Structured schedules, which provide a reliable and consistent block schedule from the beginning of the degree to the end, make it easier for students to move through and complete on time, even as they balance work and school. Finally, encouraging full-time attendance of 15 credits per term or 30 credits per year ensures that students finish their programs in a timely fashion, without additional cost. We believe in the need for more investment in higher education to give students a better chance to enter and complete.

However, it is highly structured programs and transforming systems through the Game Changers that will help more community colleges become the high-quality institutions that students need and deserve, saving students valuable time and money. After all, it is far cheaper to earn your degree in 2 or 4 years rather than in 5 or 6.

posted by Julie Johnson

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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.

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

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