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Planning factors into completion rate

In the last couple of posts, I’ve written about a recent study conducted by Sallie Mae that reveals the differences between those who complete a college degree and those who don’t. Not surprisingly, one factor that improves the completion rate is a plan to pay for all years of college.

Forty-two percent of those who successfully completed a college degree had a plan to pay for their studies well before they started their studies. This compares to 26% of non-completers who planned out their financial path through college. Planning to pay for college included having discussions about finances; identifying who would pay for college expenses; whether scholarships would be needed; and taking (or avoiding) student loans. Additionally, students and families who engaged in financial planning discussions and activities ultimately incurred less educational debt.

Financial preparations were only one aspect of the planning that successful students did to ensure they completed a college degree. Other planning activities included taking academically more challenging courses; visiting college campuses; talking with college recruiters; and meeting with their counselors/advisers.

Helping families plan for college will increase the completion rate

The study results provide ample actionable paths for community colleges to increase enrollment and to improve their completion rate. Community colleges often enroll students who haven’t prepared themselves to succeed in college. Either they don’t know what they want to study; they’ve enrolled because their parents expect them to; or they haven’t thought out and assembled the resources they need to successfully complete a degree. Additionally, community college students are more likely to face competing pressures from work, family obligations and finances.

Engaging parents in discussions about their children’s college options early will have a positive impact on both enrollment and outcomes. Holding free workshops for parents (with children of all ages) to help them understand college costs, accessing financial aid, college savings options, scholarship opportunities and student loans can help families start discussions about college. More importantly, it can help them start planning for college.

This would also create opportunities to “triage” students and families who have started college planning late. For these prospective students, a community college may allow them to to reduce overall college costs, explore career fields, and create workable academic and financial paths to college completion.

There’s a lot our numerous and well-compensated college executives can do to increase enrollment and improve WCC’s graduation rate. Using available data to create strategies that attract students is one way to ensure that community colleges remain viable in the changing higher education mix.

Photo Credit: Robert Huffstutter , via Flickr