Close isn’t complete

Nearly one in five students at community colleges and four-year universities who don’t graduate have completed three-quarters or more of credits required for a degree, according to a new study. One in 10 who don’t persist have completed 90 percent or more of needed credits.

The analysis by Civitas Learning — which examined 30 community colleges and 23 four-year institutions that are clients — found that nearly 22 percent of non-persisting students at the two-year institutions it studied were at or above the 75 percent credit threshold. More than 15 percent were at or above the 90 percent threshold.

“Because students who have earned a significant number of credits are likely to persist and graduate, there has historically been little focus on ensuring these students actually get across the finish line,” the study said.

Often, students who have accumulated many credits realize those credits don’t apply toward their intended degree and are dejected, or they don’t have the funds to continue on toward earning required credits, it said. Other times it’s the bureaucratic hurdles of transferring to another institution (which determine what credits it will accept) or differing tuition policies that are enough to sway students to drop out, it added.

Just a nudge

But colleges can provide services to help their “near completers.” The key is to identity those students and provide the appropriate help. Sometimes, students who are close to completion just need a “nudge, the study said, such as an email reminding them of graduation requirements and upcoming deadlines. Others need more help, such as more counseling, career advice or mentoring.

The report highlighted efforts at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, which in 2017 set a goal of increasing its number of graduation applications by 5 percent. It increased the number by 26 percent, and saw its graduation rate jump by 31 percent.

The college focused on students who were 75 percent or more complete toward a degree or certificate, the report said. Its initiatives included emails and phone calls, as well as workshops, financial literacy, tutoring and career coaching.

“While overall the student success strategy was precise, it was not complicated — revealing just how small moves can result in big gains,” the study said.

Civitas added another reason it’s important to catch near-completers and encourage them to earn their associate degree, even if they plan to transfer to a four-year institution: Community college students who transfer after first earning an associate degree are almost 50 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years and 22 percent more likely to do so within six years.

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