In our report, we also strongly backed the development of early warning and intervention systems for colleges to identify and provide additional supports to students who start to fall off the graduation track. Looking at 4-year college students, we developed a simple, but highly effective, risk indicator for non-completion. We flagged students as at-risk of dropping out if they demonstrated two or more of the following characteristics: had a child, were not satisfied with undergraduate education, became part-time, started part-time, had less than a C average, transferred one or more times, or attended a non-selective school. More than 75 percent of 4-year students flagged with the indicator failed to complete, and the indicator identified more than half of all 4-year non-completers. We expect that community colleges, with access to individual course-level data each semester, could develop systems with even greater sensitivity and specificity.
Importantly, the President has called for improving the quality of community colleges in concert with making them free for all responsible students. The Administration’s plan states that community colleges must adopt “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.” The plan cites the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which provides a range of financial, academic, and personal supports to students, along with special class scheduling options to foster college completion. A recent evaluation found that 40 percent of ASAP participants earned a degree, compared with 22 percent of the control group.
Although the evidence base regarding strategies to improve college completion is still developing, organizations like Complete College America, the University Innovation Alliance, and the Community College Research Center have put a lot of good thought and effort into thinking through ways to increase college completion rates. Finding effective approaches to boost community college completion rates will likely play a big role in determining the success of the Administration’s push for free community college.
Daniel Princiotta, consultant to Child Trends, principal research scientist at Bethesda Policy Research – See more here.