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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