Not graduating is ‘the new normal’

The “new normal” college student is not a frat boy or a philosophy major, notes National Journal, citing research by Complete College America. The typical college student — especially at community colleges — is a part-timer with a job, possibly a family to support and low odds of completing a degree. Only 19 percent of full-time community college students and less than 8 percent of part-timers will graduate within four years.

Why is it so difficult for the part-time or commuting college student to obtain a degree? How can educators and policymakers ease these students’ path through college without sacrificing academic standards? What is the responsibility of high schools? Should two-year colleges and certificate programs devote a larger share of resources than four-year institutions toward ensuring graduation? If this is the “new normal” for college students, should we embrace it?

While the data isn’t perfect, the problem is real, I respond. California’s Student Success Task Force pointed the way to raising completion rates: Let new and progressing students get first crack at registering for the courses they need to complete a credential quickly.

I also think colleges must do more to help students set and achieve goals. Most incoming community college students — including those who place into remedial classes — say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree. Those who have a good chance of success should be placed in a transfer sequence. Those who are unlikely to make it should be told about alternate paths with higher odds of success, such as a vocational associate degree or certificate. Once the student chooses a path, he or she should be placed in a sequence of courses to reach that goal.

Many community college students don’t know where they want to go, take courses that won’t get them anywhere, waste their time and money, get frustrated and quit. Community colleges should learn from the very high completion rates of two-year for-profit programs and success of Tennessee’s technical colleges. Students need a coherent sequence of classes that lead to an achievable goal.

Many enrollees aren’t seeking degrees, writes Renee Moore, who teaches at Mississippi Delta Community College. In addition, an “increasing number of people (are) seeking college education who in years past would not have even attempted college, or didn’t require college for decent paying jobs.”

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