The issue of college graduation rates has attracted significant media and political focus in recent years, as higher education institutions and legislators scramble to determine who should be charged with ensuring that students make it to the graduation podium. These efforts come as little surprise, considering the projection that 60 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary degree by the year 2018.
Interestingly, however, completion rates are not considered a marker of programmatic quality in the Obama administration’s “gainful employment” rule and — since its metrics focus solely on graduates’ earnings — the regulation will allow programs that graduate zero students to pass muster.
For APC colleges, however, student completion is a priority. Each of our member institutions believes that students should receive the necessary, tailored support that they require to overcome the various and oftentimes complex hurdles that they might face as they pursue their goal of graduation. The nontraditional students that our colleges serve have unique needs — needs that traditional four-year institutions are all too often ill-equipped to recognize or accommodate.
The College of Westchester, which this year celebrated its 100th anniversary, is just one example of an institution that defies sensationalist headlines about proprietary college’s commitment to students’ success. A rapidly expanding initiative that it introduced on-campus underscores its ability and will to effect positive change quickly and nimbly to respond to the evolving needs of its students. And other colleges are taking notice.
The College of Westchester’s “Commit 2 Complete” (C2C) initiative, which began out of Student Affairs’ concern for student stress and academic vulnerability during their freshman year, has morphed into an institution-wide program that pushes facilitating student retention to the fore of every single department — from admissions counselors and academic advisors, to financial aid staff and professors. From “C2C’ campaign bracelets to on-campus seminars, a robust communications program helps keep the C2C acronym visible on campus and top of mind with students.
As part of the C2C program, enrolling freshman students are encouraged to fill out a pledge card and/or wall plaque, on which they detail their reasons for wanting to complete their degree — these range from the career-focused to the heartfelt and family-oriented. Along with pictures of the students holding their pledge cards, these are posted all over campus for optimum visibility: the objective is to remind students, some of whom might be faltering and struggling to stay on track, just why they chose to pursue higher education — and to remain accountable.
Additionally, each student is assigned their own personal “success coach,” who encourages them to establish clear goals — and helps them identify the best path to achieve them. Their coach tracks their attendance and in-class engagement through constant updates from their professors, allowing them to intervene at the earliest signs of disengagement. Frequent one-on-one meetings between coach and student provide additional support and a forum for the student to discuss any concerns they might have. These interpersonal relationships are crucial in helping the students to reconsider the extent of their own abilities, and in developing a sense of stability that encourages them to continue.
Though still in its infancy, the program is yielding positive results: 80 percent of those that signed up are still enrolled and performing well academically. The program has already earned accolades from other educators, who are now looking to replicate The College of Westchester’s success.
The C2C is just one way that APC member colleges place the most important student outcomes — program completion and graduation — ahead of other concerns when defining what student success looks like. It’s still unfathomable to us how the Department of Education has a different definition.