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Beyond the News

Report: Actions for Completion

University Business, Oct 2011

The oft-noted statistics are grim: only about half of college students complete any degree or certificate within six years, according to the Information Center for Higher Education Policy Making and Analysis. In the fall of 2010, public policy firm HCM Strategists and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a series of conversations for institutional leaders dedicated to increasing success for students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. HCM staff also conducted interviews with 30 campus leaders. A new report, "Beating the Odds: What It Means and Why It's Important," summarizes the themes that emerged from the interviews and meetings:

  • Preparation and access. Colleges that are beating the odds are focusing on preparation and access through outreach programs (such as summer bridge academics and dual-enrollment opportunities), career- and college-ready collaboration, and transfer policies.
  • Student retention and remediation. Many presidents mentioned implementing more and different assessments to identify students' skill deficiencies, blurring the line between remedial education and credit-bearing courses, offering accelerated movement between levels of education, and having contextualized curriculum.
  • Innovation and new models. These include alternative ways to finance education and ensure on-time graduation, such as rethinking course prerequisites.
  • Leadership driving culture. Presidents at the model schools send consistent and clear messages about the completion priority to boards, staff, and faculty, use the budget process to drive and execute priorities, and use data to inform decisions and increase accountability. "Opportunity to enroll" has become "opportunity to earn a credential of value."

The report also profiles 32 institutions considered models for student success efforts. Click here for more on the completion conversation.