How colleges are boosting graduation numbers

Community colleges are increasing the number of graduates, reports Community College Times. Most start by picking the “low-hanging fruit,” such as contacting people who are a few credits short of a degree.

“We were going to them and saying, ‘It looks like you’re close to graduation. This is what you need to do to complete,’” says Stephanie Janey, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at Roxbury Community College in Roxbury Crossing, Mass., which just graduated 394 students in 2013, the most in the school’s history.

Many students transfer to a four-year university before earning an associate degree, then fail to complete a bachelor’s degree. Many have earned enough credits for an associate degree if they “reverse transfer” and claim it.

“We’re located in a city with three other higher ed institutions,” says Hal Higdon, chancellor of Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., which saw its graduation rate jump more than 50 percent from 2012 to 2013. “The university lets us know who’s transferred, and we get the information that they may have left us six hours short of an associate degree. We’re hoping to do that with all our education partners.”

Another relatively simple effort colleges have undertaken is the waiving of graduation fees or applications. For example, all seven colleges in the Dallas County district have adopted a policy that degree audit specialists can put students on the list for graduation, without their needing to apply, says Anna Mays, vice president of student services and enrollment manager at Cedar Valley College, which saw a 33 percent increase in associate degrees awarded, to 420 in 2011-12 from 317 in 2010-11.

The College of Southern Maryland heard from students who said they weren’t going to pay the $25 fee to graduate, so they waived it, says Brad Gottfried, president of the La Plata, Md.-based school, which awarded 852 degrees and certificates to its largest class ever.

To reach the fruit on the top of the tree, community colleges are redesigning developmental education “to make sure that entering students don’t get stuck in no-credit quicksand,” reports Community College Times. Others are trying to provide better counseling to first-year students. Many now provide “intrusive advising,” rather than waiting for students to ask for help.

Compare college costs: $3,300 vs. $32,000

Community colleges are losing students to high-cost for-profit competitors. Now Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri is fighting back with an ad campaign that compares its tuition to its competitors, reports Inside Higher Ed.

A TV commercial the college unveiled last week compares the $3,300 annual cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Ozarks to $32,000 at Bryan College, a small Christian for-profit, $18,000 at ITT Tech and roughly $14,000 at Everest College and Vatterott College.

“When looking at the costs, there is no comparison,” a voiceover says during the commercial. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

With rapidly growing enrollment, Ozarks is struggling to meet demand and has turned away allied health and technical students, Inside Higher Ed reports.  While chancellor Hal Higdon says his college isn’t losing enrollment to the for-profits, he wants students to be “smart consumers.”

For-profit dropouts who enroll at Ozarks bring along their debts for federal reporting purposes, which raises the colleges loan default rates.

While community colleges have been reluctant to invest in marketing, Southwestern Illinois College promotes “SWIC-onomics” in print ads touting its low tuition.