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Academics Not Only Factor in College Success, ACT Report Says

Predicting just who will go to and finish college can be tricky. A new report from ACT Inc. underscores that while academic readiness is important, it is not the sole factor at play in college success.

About 19 percent of high school graduates in 2011 who took the ACT and were considered college-ready in at least three of the four subject areas never enrolled or didn't return for a second year, the Reality of College Readiness 2013 report released today reveals.

"It's important for students to find the right college, be aware of financial-aid opportunities, and ensure their major matches their personal interests, among other things. We need to pay attention to multiple dimensions of readiness in helping students achieve their educational goals," said Steve Kappler, head of postsecondary strategy for ACT, in a statement from the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing organization.

Of the wider pool of all 2011 graduates who took the ACT, 43 percent were not enrolled in college or their status was not known by the fall of 2012. That represents not only a loss to potential students, but the overall economy, added Kappler.

But the ACT report notes that there is diversity among today's undergraduate students. Nearly 30 percent delayed enrollment for a year; 38 percent attend part time, and an increasing number are taking courses online (30 percent). Plus many are moving from one institution to another. About 29 percent of community college students transferred to four-year colleges, and 14 percent transferred from four-year to two-year colleges, according to ACT. Just over 40 percent of college graduates received credits from more than one institution.

"This report is intended to raise awareness of the fact that the path to college success is not a linear one for many students. There are significant numbers of qualified students who move through (or in and out of) multiple postsecondary experiences as they pursue their educational goals," the report says.

ACT reports that despite significant efforts to increase student success, retention rates in recent years remain virtually unchanged. The re-enrollment rates of 2011 ACT-tested high school graduates at private four-year colleges are higher than rates for two-year colleges and public four-year colleges.

Among the report's recommendations to policymakers to improve college-retention rates:

1. Actively pursue P-20 collaborations to develop integrated education systems.

2. Expand the current retention definition to focus on individual student success.

3. Measure and reward individual student success across the postsecondary system.

4. Revise policies that increase the transparent movement of students from one educational experience to another.

5. Establish a clearinghouse that serves as a repository for a student-owned educational portfolio to be used when transferring.

On the ACT website, there is a breakdown by state of enrollment and retention trends.

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