Giving Compass' Take:

• The authors explores successful college completion programs that are tailored to each institution and students' needs.

• How can colleges share information with each other on best practices? Can there be a more formal network to help increase retention rates by discussing what is effective?

• Read about the support that college dropouts need to return to school. 

This fall, 2.5 million students will enroll in college for the first time. But how many will actually complete their degrees? A lot fewer than you might expect. Less than half of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years, and not even 40 percent of students at two-year institutions finish within three.

One answer is to pass a law which punishes colleges that don’t get their graduation rates up, or rewards the colleges that do. Such an approach is simple, appealing — and dumb. It would give colleges incentive to boost their graduation rates by admitting only the most accomplished students, shutting the doors of opportunity on many others.

Colleges would also have cause to act more like diploma mills, doing whatever it takes to ensure that students get their credentials — even if it means cutting corners, giving a pass for subpar work, or just offering Mickey Mouse classes.

  • For one, colleges can offer more holistic financial and academic support to disadvantaged students.
  • Colleges can also coach students to maintain a long-term vision of success.
  • There are other programs that support students effectively without in-person mentoring.
  • And yet another intriguing approach involves providing emergency aid to students at risk of dropping out.

None of these programs were mandated by national policy. Yet they are making a real difference in students’ lives. These initiatives work because they’ve been tailored with an eye to what’s needed by these students at these campuses. Here’s hoping that other colleges are taking a close look, because these are the kinds of reforms most likely to bring meaningful progress on the completion challenge.

Read the full article about college completion by RJ Martin and Frederick M. Hess at AEI