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Report: More Supports Needed for Students to Complete College

Despite state efforts to get more students postsecondary credentials, a new report suggests that college-completion rates are not rising because campuses are not doing enough to support students, particularly those who are low-income and from nontraditional backgrounds.

"Policy Meets Pathways," released Thursday by the national nonprofit research organization Jobs for the Future, based in Boston, says that state policies alone have not been effective and more needs to be done on campuses to help students gain traction toward degrees.

Although many states have established metrics for success, changed transfer policies, and provided better academic advising, it's not been enough to turn the tide. Six-year college completion rates dropped from 56.1 percent to 55 percent, according to the latest figures from the National Student Clearinghouse

Too often, there are not incentives or structures for colleges to carry out the policies set at the state level, the report says.

"Campuses need to redesign pilot projects and ad hoc interventions into structured or guided pathways that reshape every step of the student experience, and states must scale pathways across state systems to serve all students," according to the report. "States need to redouble their efforts to modernize policies, and develop more effective approaches that support campuses and build capacity to strengthen implementation."

Beginning with orientation, campuses should introduce students to career options and guide them on a streamlined pathway, JFF suggests. Students would be more likely to stay on track if colleges improved counseling, monitored student progress, and provided frequent and customized feedback to learners, the report says.

JFF notes that there are pockets of evidence-based innovations, but not many campuses have fully scaled redesigns. The limited impact can be linked to policymakers seeking "quick fixes" with big legislative mandates without providing the resources or evaluating what is needed to create successful programs on campuses, the report says. This has resulted in confusion on campuses and outreach to the students who are most likely to graduate rather than to the disadvantaged students who can be hardest to serve.

The report highlights Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina for having model state initiatives. JFF concludes its report with several recommendation for state action, including naming a team to analyze the existing policy environment for college completion, prioritizing efforts to serve low-income and nontraditional students, and building state structures to set the conditions for scaled-up improvements.

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