Colleges Attempt to Improve Completion Rates by Seeking Out Students Ready to Graduate

Posted By Eliana Osborn on January 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm
Colleges Attempt to Improve Completion Rates by Seeking Out Students Ready to Graduate

Graduation rates are typically measured by the number of students enrolled at an institution who earn a degree within six years.  What schools really want, though, is a bachelor’s degree that is completed in four years.  Lots of higher education efforts are focused on getting students into college and preventing them from dropping out.  However, there has also been growing innovation when it comes to getting students their diplomas more quickly.

The Education Advisory Board (EAB) is helping colleges and universities find enrolled students who are close to meeting graduation requirements.  Sometimes, there’s only a small hiccup in the way of completion— paperwork, financial holds or a single missing class.  EAB’s new Student Success Collaborative uses data to discover these students who are right on the cusp and help them complete whatever tasks lie in the way of graduating.

It’s not surprising that analytics are where colleges are choosing to focus their energy. Big data is constantly growing as an industry, and spending a little time and money to discover ‘nearly grads’ can have serious results for schools.  Graduation rates are increasingly important for college comparisons.  More importantly, getting students through school and into jobs sooner makes a big difference for future loan repayment and earnings statistics.

Inside Higher Education recently reported on Virginia Commonwealth University’s changes to graduation processes.  Previously, the impetus was on students to be aware of requirements and their own readiness.  Students could speak with an advisor to map their path to diploma, but most didn’t and relied solely on online information. However, according to Inside Higher Ed, “Advisers now use technology to identify and contact students who, for example, need to register for a major requirement but haven’t, whose grades have fallen below departmental thresholds and – again – who are an application away from graduating.”

The result? A 19% increase in graduation applications this year.  VCU has pushed students to take 15 credits each semester, as well as sending out more frequent communication about advisement and graduation.  Data from the Student Success Collaborative has made this possible, rather than onerous.

Cal State-Fullerton has also focused on improving college completion rates by hiring specialists to identify students who should be graduating soon.  By reaching out to these more than 6,000 students, nearly 2,500 were able to earn degrees on-time.  The simple fixes needed to get students to graduation may be things they wouldn’t think of, like taking an independent study class to fill in a credit.

Another strategy used by Fullerton is to target students who have reached a certain number of credits.  When they have completed 74-85 credits, students are supposed to enroll in an advisement workshop.  There, they can find out about the path to graduation, paperwork requirements, and other details.  Many students simply don’t have a date in mind for graduating and need a push toward the finish line.

Both VCU and CSF have used their work with the Student Success Collaborative to increase their graduation rates to over 60%.  In just four years, CSF was able to jump 11% – and decrease its racial gap in completion rates.

Image: Wikpedia

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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