Non-traditional barriers to retention and graduation
- Higher education administrators and advisors chose to look beyond surface-level enrollment and retention metrics in discussing ways to help nontraditional students get into and graduate from college at the annual conference of the nonprofit Achieving the Dream, as reported by EdSurge. Achieving the Dream works with about 160 educational institutions in 30 states to help community colleges close equity gaps.
- Technology-assisted advising could play a role – as long as the information collected isn’t used to reinforce biases, Hoori Kalamkarian, a researcher at the Community College Research Center said during the conference. Beyond retention metrics, data could be used to inform colleges about achievement gaps; for example, which student groups are getting flagged more, she suggested.
- Others conference speakers said institutions must look beyond academic data to address barriers, such as housing and transportation struggles or food insecurity. Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy at Temple University, noted that of 33,000 students surveyed in 2017, 56% were food insecure and 14% were homeless. One way to make sure students get fed is to expand the school lunch program to community colleges, she suggested. Goldrick-Rab also said she’d like to see technology used to help hunger and housing issues. For example, Amarillo College in Texas uses predictive software to find and reach out to students who might benefit from the college's food pantry, clothing center or social services.
Knowing the number of students who go hungry or that minority students are more likely to need remedial coursework is a growing necessity for two- and four-year college leaders. Administrators must be ready to use that knowledge to create campus-wide change as they determine how best to spend precious dollars.
Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center, told the New York Times that many college leaders want a fundamental overhaul of the community college structure and the ways students follow paths to a degree. Bailey said community colleges have found the greatest success through lowering costs to students, creating intense advising, and offering clear pathways to graduation. These methods can seem impossible to two-year and four-year colleges with tight budgets, but administrators must take a closer look at which reforms and programs might work for their institutions.