Does Money Motivate College Completion? New Task Force Says Yes

Does Money Motivate College Completion? New Task Force Says Yes
We look at the recommendations for improving completion rates in a new report issued by the Complete College Ohio Task Force, which includes financial incentives.

Getting kids to college is only a part of the equation regarding higher education. Whether a student enrolls in a community college or a four-year school, the goal is to get that student to leave the institution with a degree firmly in hand. Unfortunately, that event does not occur nearly as often as educators would like. As the quest to improve college completion rates kicks into high gear, a task force in Ohio has some recommendations for schools looking to get more of their students on the path to graduation.

About the Complete College Ohio Task Force

College completion rates in the state of Ohio are some of the lowest in the country, with Ohio ranking 38th on the spectrum of graduating college students, according to the Ohio Higher Ed website. To determine why completion rates are so low – and what can be done to improve them – the Ohio Board of Regents partnered with the university system in the state, which includes community colleges, adult education centers, and four-year institutions.

The newly formed Complete College Ohio Task Force was responsible for studying the reasons behind the dismal graduation rates. The committee then put forth a list of recommendations to improve those rates. While the recommendations were specifically for Ohio colleges, the recommendations are equally relevant for other colleges nationwide.

When the task force began their work, the Ohio Higher Ed website reports that the group was divided into three subsets: Ready for College, No Time to Waste, and Help Me Cross the Finish Line. The three groups worked on their own recommendations and strategies designed to help students succeed at the college level. The recommendations were recently released at a Complete College Ohio Conference held at Columbus State Community College.

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About the Recommendations

The 20 recommendations released by the task force focus on fundamentals, as well as innovations that have been found to promote college success, according to the Canton Rep. A few of the recommendations may even be controversial, including those using financial incentives or consequences to keep students on track toward their degree completion. Others, such as freshmen orientations and consistent credit-hour requirements, are basic steps most colleges could and would take if it meant seeing more students to the completion phase of their education.

Some of the recommendations included in the report for students getting ready to enter college include:

Once students have begun taking college courses, additional work must be done by schools to keep students on track throughout their college experience, including:

  • Flexible, innovative scheduling that makes it easier for students to balance school and other responsibilities
  • Implementation of “invasive” advising that ensures students get the academic support and services they need throughout the college experience
  • Creation of systems that ensure direct pathways to completion of a degree program, with tracking and intervention provided as needed
  • Provision of financial incentives for students who reach specific benchmarks in a timely fashion

The last recommendation listed here has generated some controversy among college educators and lawmakers. While studies have indicated that financial incentives may be an effective way to keep some struggling students in school, there is a question about whether this is a truly ethical approach. The water becomes even murkier when the idea of punitive financial measures is added for students who fail to reach the finish line in the allotted time.

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Money for Degrees

The recommendations made by the task force involving financial incentives may be referred to as the “carrot” and “stick” approach, according to The “carrot” is the financial incentives offered to students for making it to certain benchmarks, including graduation within a reasonable period of time. Those incentives could be rebates on tuition, which could be spent on any needs the student might have, including non-school-related needs. Another option would be a loan forgiveness program, where a student would not be required to repay a student loan in full if the degree was earned within a set period.

Conversely, students who did not meet benchmarks would receive the “stick” – financial penalties like additional fees and costs. This type of program could involve charging students out-of-state tuition rates after a set period of time or imposing a cut-off of financial assistance to those students. While the positive financial reinforcement has many supporters, the penalty side has few.

“Penalties don’t work – positive reinforcement does,” Luis Proenza, president of the University of Akron, told “Being punitive does not make sense, because it can’t fairly account for all the possible reasons.”

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While few studies have been done on the impact of financial incentives on college completion rates, the ones that have been performed have shown positive results. One New Orleans study from 2004 showed that students who received financial incentives had a higher completion rate than those who did not. When financial incentives are combined with other recommendations made by the Ohio Task Force, the hope is that the state – and possibly the country – will begin to see more college graduates enter the future workforce.

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