One of the biggest obstacles community colleges face today is the ability to retain students until they graduate
to another institution. Inside Higher Ed
cites studies that have shown that students pursuing a two-year degree
have a much lower chance of achieving their education goals than those who begin their academic careers at a four-year university.
However, a college degree is imperative today for individuals who want to gain employment that offers sufficient income to support themselves and their families. To help students reach their goals, colleges are getting creative in their methods of student retention.
Last year, President Obama
set a high bar for colleges across the country: to have the highest college graduation rates in the world by the year 2020. According to a Bloomberg report
, the U.S. is currently ranked seventh among the proportion of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 who are currently enrolled in college. The data, released from the Organization for Economic Cooperation, also showed that the 39% of adults in this country have an associate's degree or higher, compared with 55% for Canada and 54% for Japan.
Colleges will not be alone in meeting this lofty goal. President Obama has also pledged government support to help colleges retain students through graduation, including financial assistance to individual students. A wealth of grants have also come in from various foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which have helped community colleges pay for some of the innovative solutions they are developing to encourage students to stay in school and succeed.
A posting on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement
website reports on a recent commitment signed by their organization and five other community college organizations to boost student completion rates by 50% over the next decade. The commitment was signed at the end of the 2010 American Association of Community Colleges Convention, with the purpose of bringing completion concerns to the forefront of community college work.
The pledge asks community college leaders, faculty and staff to identify the ways they can help students understand the value of an education
and meet their academic goals. Elected officials were also called upon in the pledge to create policies that would strengthen community colleges and enable students to meet their goals.
Thankfully, some community colleges are answering the call with creativity and practical solutions that directly address student needs.
This Minnesota college features a five-year-old Finish What You Start program that encourages students to finish their education and meet their academic goals. According to a report at Huffington Post
, the program includes "learning communities," where a single group of students takes a cluster of courses together that all center on a common theme or field of study.
Other Minnesota schools are following suit with their own retention programs, such as a two-credit "New Student Seminar" to help lower-achieving students refine their reading skills. Students are also required to meet with advisors twice a semester to ensure they are on track for achieving their goals.
This community college located outside of Albany, New York, boasts one of the highest retention levels in the country, thanks in part to innovative solutions that place their retention programs under a single banner for better tracking and quality control. According to a report on Inside Higher Ed, the combined resources make it easier for staff and faculty to identify specific needs of individual students and provide sufficient funding for meeting those needs.
The retention services strive to be proactive, reaching students before they decide to take a break from their education. One feature of the program is an early warning system, where professors notify academic counselors of students likely to have difficulty with exams. These students are often identified through behavior in the classroom, as well as chronic tardiness and truancy. Armed with student names, counselors can then refer at-risk students to the proper services before the problems become too big for the students to overcome.
Student retention has long been a common concern for community colleges across the country. However, thanks to the call by President Obama, funding from a variety of sources and innovative solutions offered up by many schools today, the retention problem may be dropping.
Students who stay in school until they reach their academic goals will be more likely to achieve the success they are hoping for in life. It appears that the call put out by many civic leaders to "stay in school" was the best advice students could follow after all – the good news is that community colleges are now coming alongside students to help them do just that.