Is Contraception the Answer for College Completion Rates?

Is Contraception the Answer for College Completion Rates?
We examine the “Make it Personal” Campaign initiated by the American Association of Community Colleges to improve retention rates by educating students on pregnancy planning and prevention. This is a timely subject in light of other contraceptive debates raging currently.

Few would argue that community college completion rates in this country are currently in the dismal range, but not all would agree on how to bring those rates up to par. One somewhat controversial initiative is striving to increase college graduation rates by placing focus in a whole new area – the rate of unplanned pregnancies among community college students. To that end, the American Association of Community Colleges has launched a national campaign to reduce unplanned pregnancy in hopes of increasing the number of students who finish a community college program.

“Make it Personal” Gathers Support

The new “Make it Personal: College Completion” campaign was initiated by the American Association of Community Colleges with financial support from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. According to USA Today, the campaign material makes its point through “edgy material” designed to speak directly to today’s community college student. The goal of the program is to encourage community college students to “make smart decisions about sex and relationships.” This particular project is geared toward young adults and strives to be non-political by avoiding controversial subjects like abortion.

According to a report at Inside Higher Ed, the campaign originally launched in 2010 and includes a twofold approach to educate college students about pregnancy planning. The first approach assists colleges with the incorporation of pregnancy planning into regular college curriculum, through classes like biology, business management and communication. To date, five colleges have received grants of as much as $20,000 to work campaign material into course curriculum.

The other approach involves bringing campaign literature and other material into student services at local community colleges, such as orientation sessions and courses on student success. Some schools use the information directly in sessions geared to incoming students, while other schools allow faculty and staff to share pertinent links to the campaign’s website and materials with interested students. The college might also provide resources on their website regarding the link between pregnancy and college completion.

The Numbers Paint the Picture

“Make it Personal: College Completion” provides compelling statistics to support the need to talk to college students about sex and pregnancy. According to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy published at, 61 percent of women who have children while in community college do not end up finishing their degrees. That rate is 65 percent higher than it is for female community college students without children.

Despite the fact that most women agree that an unplanned pregnancy could derail their plans for higher education, many put themselves at risk for just that by having unprotected sex during their college years. USA Today reports on a survey that showed while 87 percent of community college students thought an unplanned pregnancy would make it more difficult to achieve their education goals, 35 percent also said they were likely to have sex without using birth control over the following three months. Andrea Kane, senior director of public policy at the National Campaign, told USA Today that according to their research, 4-7 percent of college students would have an unplanned pregnancy within a 6-24 month time period.

Baby and College Plans don’t Always Mix

The directors of the project told Inside Higher Ed they have heard from numerous community college educators about male and female students alike that drop out of college after the birth of an unplanned child. Unfortunately, many of these students never return to school to finish their degrees. In one of the videos released by the campaign, Ivy Tech student Michael Rice talks about how difficult it is to find time to hit the books while raising two children.

“I don’t have the luxury of studying when I have my children in front of me,” Rice says in the video. He adds that his time to get homework done is when the kids are at school or in bed asleep.

Sarah Coates, a student at Central Piedmont Community College, told FOX Charlotte, “I had children at 28 and I wasn’t expecting it and I didn’t finish my degree. So now, here I am at 42 and finishing my degree.”

The Importance of Education

The publication from the National Campaign states that sex education is not something frequently addressed across college campuses today. Despite the taboo on the subject, unplanned pregnancy is one of the primary reasons a student may never finish his or her college education. By bringing the subject to community college classrooms, the National Campaign hopes to raise awareness of healthy sexual behavior and increase the odds of college success.

Colleges that have received grants to implement sex education into course curriculum are listed on the website for the American Association of Community Colleges as:

Mike Flores, vice president of student affairs at Palo Alto College, told Inside Higher Ed that the communications department at his school has incorporated project material into many of their courses. For example, Flores said students in a news reporting and writing class recently drafted press releases for a local advocacy group that works with teen pregnancy. The school is also considering the implementation of pregnancy prevention material into a mandatory student success course for all incoming students.

Flores said that in the area where the school is located, a high urban poverty rate has raised concerns about the impact of the local economy on teen and unplanned pregnancy rates.

“It’s a pressing issue in our community,” Flores said.

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