37 million college dropouts

Some 37 million Americans have “some college” but no degree, writes Anya Kamenetz  in The Atlantic.  That’s bad for the dropouts — and for the economy.

Small cash grants to help struggling students pay for transportation and child care have been shown to improve their chances of getting a degree. The government’s Pell Grants, possibly subject to budget cuts in a Washington debt deal, cover community-college tuition for the most hard-pressed students; if they can attend school while working and finish quickly, they need less money overall.

Colleges need to spend “differently and better,” not more, says Tom Sugar, a senior vice president at Complete College America, which calls itself a “do tank.”  Complete College is working with 31 states to improve graduation rates by speeding the path to a degree, before “life gets in the way,” says Sugar. Tracking students’ progress and removing barriers helps.

The biggest obstacle isn’t money. It’s “academic fitness,” writes Kamenetz.

Notably, half of the students in community colleges and 20 to 30 percent of those in four-year schools need a remedial, high-school-level course when they enroll; having to spend time and money without accumulating credits toward a degree prompts most of them to quit. Complete College America prefers the idea of “corequisites” that combine remedial tutoring, sometimes using software, with college-credit work.

In addition, federal policy could update college completion data and link financial aid “directly to student achievement instead of using credit hours as a clumsy proxy for progress,” Kamenetz writes. “The Education Department could funnel more student loans and grants to states that fare best in moving students to graduation.”