How can you help your students get where they want to go?

Get insider insights straight from the top with key takeaways from the Powering Purpose: Presidents Roundtable webinar

What can higher ed do to help working-age adults come back, post COVID-19? That was the topic at our recent Powering Purpose: Presidents Roundtable. The event brought together community college presidents and leaders from CAEL and InsideTrack to discuss a wide range of engagement, enrollment and completion topics.

What student support lessons learned during the pandemic have turned into changes that are here to stay? How can pairing data with financial incentives lead to increases in re-enrollment and completion? How can work-based learning be better used and integrated, helping students get to completion faster? And what are some effective strategies to connect stop-outs back to their higher ed goals? Here are some key insights from the event.

Credit for prior learning is key to success 

For Dr. Annette Parker, President of South Central College in Minnesota, providing a way to maximize credit for prior learning (CPL) — also known as prior learning assessment (PLA) — is a game-changer for community college students. In fact, statistics showed that students with a high CPL have a first-year retention rate of almost 80%. Armed with data and research, Dr. Parker was able to get the South Central College  faculty on board.

Working first with the Faculty Senate, policies, procedures and rubrics were created to provide opportunities in different programs for CPL. “This, in turn, led to staffing an office where this is their focus,” Dr. Parker stated, “allowing us to increase the scale of the program. We were able to show that CPL works.”

Using data and grants to combat drop-outs

According to Dr. Scott Ralls, President of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, “the students who needed us most were the students most impacted” by the pandemic. Statistics at Wake Tech showed that African-American student withdrawals were up eight percent, while working adult student withdrawals and PELL Grant recipient withdrawals were both up seven percent. His solution? Data science combined with a state-specific grant.

“Using data science, we could let stopped-out students know specifically how close they are to completing their degree or certificate, down to which classes they need and when those are offered. We used InsideTrack coaching as a way to help us connect and re-enroll those students.” Students at Wake Tech can also tap into the North Carolina Finish Line Grant — funding created for this exact student population. “Students within a certain percentage of finishing were eligible for this grant. So if money was an issue (it almost always is), we could help them in that area too.” This combination meant that Wake Tech’s outreach campaign was 50 percent more effective than the prior year — all during a pandemic year with even greater concerns about withdrawal rates and equity. 

Stopping out for good reasons

As a first-generation college student herself, Ruth Bauer White, President of InsideTrack understands the challenges today’s students face. “When I went to college,” she says, “I was so focused on getting there that the idea of ‘what is it going to take to stay’ wasn’t something I understood. I didn’t know there were going to be challenges I was going to have to face and overcome.”

White goes on to explain that when students stop out, they do so for good reasons. And that was before the pandemic added an entire year of new challenges. “Now these students have children at home, they are working online, maybe they’ve lost their job. And their challenges become even greater, so they stop-out because they have to deal with immediate needs.”

As the president of InsideTrack, the nonprofit student success organization that has coached more than 2.5 students, White understands the power of having someone in your corner. “This is why I started this journey in the first place,” she says. The thing our coaches see every day, working with students, is that they need to have a connection to their educational goals.” She notes that now more than ever, students are looking for support in order to figure out how they’re going to make everything work — and make sure they don’t do the same things again and have to stop out.

Creating an equation for student success 

It’s no longer news that the pandemic has been particularly hard on community college enrollment — with many schools seeing double-digit declines over the past year. Community colleges have a huge economic impact for students, their families, their communities and for taxpayers, fueling economic opportunity. The challenge, then, is how do we get these students to return to college? What’s going to work to bring them back?

According to Earl Burford, President of CAEL (the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning), one way is by aligning learning and work so individuals and communities can both benefit. “Bringing together prior learning assessments and work-based learning in an equation that adds up to student success,” he says. Apprenticeship programs using video and telecommunication systems at employer facilities, credit for prior learning, programs that lead to third party industry credentials in high-demand areas, and laddering shorter programs are all approaches that work. More and more, businesses are coming on board, working directly with community colleges to create public/private partnerships that benefit everyone. Ultimately, these programs keep the state (and the workers) more competitive.

To learn more about re-enrollment and helping students get to where they want to go, be sure and check out these additional resources:

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