College Completion: Programs That Are Working, Tech That is Helping


College completion is one of the primary measures schools use to assess the effectiveness of their institutions. According to the NCHEMS Information Center, in 2009 the average six-year graduation rate of bachelor’s degree students in the United States was 55.5%, so we definitely have room for improvement.

There are a number of factors that can impact college success and completion, from social integration to getting hung up in developmental classes. Here we explore some of the programs that have been put in place to encourage students to succeed in school and achieve their degrees.

Student Development Classes

Freshman students are especially vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by their academic load. Most colleges have some kind of orientation course geared toward freshman that will at least make them aware of what resources are available to them on campus.

At Boston College, the concept is taken farther. An elective three-credit student development course entitled “Applications of Learning Theory” is geared toward first-generation, low-income college students and designed to move them from “rote-memory learning to inquiry-based learning.”

In the class, students learn four strategies to help them become effective learners, including: asking themselves questions about new information, breaking large tasks into manageable parts, focusing on goal-setting, and understanding feedback on their work. The skills learned in the class are reinforced when students apply them to the other classes they take during the semester. Each year at least 90% of students who take learning theory graduate from Boston College.

Working With Community Colleges

For some students, four years is too long to wait to enter the workforce. Pursuing an associate’s degree, and working while taking bachelor’s classes is an option that gives students real-world experience, motivation, and discipline to succeed at the bachelor’s level. Schools that partner with community colleges to offer students advising and even pre-acceptance if they finish their associate’s degree with a certain GPA not only increase their student pipeline, they provide help to a demographic of students that might not otherwise achieve bachelor’s degrees.

According to a study done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 71% of students who transfer to a four-year school after completing an associates degree graduate within four years.

Learning Communities

Freshman students are most likely to suffer academically in the transition from high school to college. Not only do freshman have to learn how to manage their time without supervision, they have to make new friends and begin demanding college coursework that may or may not have anything to do with their desired career, if they even know what that is. Learning communities are built to give freshman students the opportunity to socialize with smaller groups of students with similar classes.

Ohio University is one of many colleges that offer learning communities for freshman based on residence and major. At Ohio, groups of no more than 25 students attend classes together, live near each other, study together, and socialize together. Students at Ohio University who participate in learning communities tend to continue their coursework and have higher GPAs than students who don’t.

Adaptive Developmental Education

Students that make it to college only to realize that they have additional developmental education classes to take before they can take credited classes face extra discouragement and are more likely to drop out. Adaptive learning courses are revolutionizing the way developmental classes are taught, and the focus on competency rather than time in class can help students speed along when they know the material and hone their skills when they need help.

Kent State University conducted a study at their campus and determined that 75% of first-year students needed math remediation, and that non-completion in beginning math is strongly correlated to non-completion at the university level. Kent State decided to try adaptive learning with ALEKS and created a “math emporium” in their library, where students use the software to learn at their own pace and teachers provide help when needed.

This is what they found:

“Comparison of results in Basic Algebra 1 from traditional programs in Fall 2010 to the Emporium ALEKS program in Fall 2011 show significant improvement. The percentage of students getting an A doubled from 17.1 percent to 34.8 percent. The percentage of students achieving an A, B or C rose from 62.5 percent to 71.1 percent.”

Any student that decides to enroll in college will face challenges along the way, but schools can do a lot to ease the transition and make the path clear.


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