Giving Compass' Take:

• Alexander Mayer and Alyssa Ratledge hammer out strategies for helping students of all backgrounds strive for college completion during COVID-19.

• What barriers to college completion during COVID-19 do students in marginalized communities face that others don't? How are you helping make education more accessible throughout the global pandemic?

• Look for reliable funds to guide your giving towards those struggling with college completion during COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated inequities in higher education. Educators fear that the pandemic and ensuing recession will make it impossible for many students to start, or to continue, their college education this fall.

Costs are one important driver of low completion rates — and those costs go far beyond the tuition “sticker price.” Students must also pay for transportation, textbooks, housing, and food, which together can easily exceed tuition. Paying for college and covering these costs will now be even harder for millions of students and families who have lost jobs. But even when these costs are covered, many students still struggle.

The good news is that we have evidence about what can help students. In fact, just using better data, like adding new students’ high school GPA to a placement test score, can help many students skip remedial courses altogether and still succeed in college-level courses.

Other programs like proactive advising, instructional reforms, bonus financial support incentives, and behavioral messaging have all been shown to improve students’ academic progress. These strategies are helpful on their own, but when combined into a more comprehensive approach, they can be game changers. The most successful programs combine tuition coverage with additional financial supports, such as textbook or transportation vouchers, and support services that are designed to regularly engage students from matriculation through graduation.

COVID-19 will compound the challenges low-income students face when trying to complete their college degree. We must prepare our institutions to meet students’ needs by combining financial supports with evidence-based student support strategies. The challenge isn’t just about being able to afford to enroll this fall — it’s about college completion, too.

Read the full article about college completion during COVID-19 by Alexander Mayer and Alyssa Ratledge at MDRC.