More than 30 groups call on Biden Administration to support college completion

Increased funding in next year's budget could help retain and get more students to completion.
By: | February 28, 2022
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College completion rates are rising, but not quickly or broadly enough to impact all students across the United States, higher education experts have urged.

Consequently, a coalition of 30-plus organizations has asked President Joe Biden and several top-ranking members of the administration to put serious funding behind evidence-backed college completion initiatives in its 2023 FY budget.

Though the six-year completion rate has hit 62.5%, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, percentages for those starting at two-year institutions and those from underserved communities are far lower. However, where strong advising measures have been put in place in high schools and colleges, there have been positive gains, highlighted in a fall study by Bottom Line and professors Andrew Barr (Texas A&M) and Ben Castleman (University of Virginia).

“While our country has made striking progress in increasing the high school graduation and college-going rates over the last two decades, college graduation rates have grown much more tepidly, and large racial gaps in persistence and completion persist,” the group wrote. “A dedicated, bold investment in proven college retention and completion programs, along with support for the development and evaluation of promising models, is needed to match the scale of the problem.”

That issue was outlined quite clearly in Biden’s original American Families Plan, which included billions in support for colleges, universities and students—and notably “$62 billion to invest in evidence-based strategies to strengthen completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from our most disadvantaged communities.” That was later trimmed back to $500 million in the updated Build Back Better plan, which sits in limbo, perhaps forever.

It is possible some items can be revived in FY23, and experts say the backing of college completion strategies would be investments well spent given student outcomes.


More from UB: Six-year college completion rates rise


Bottom Line, in its study, showed that a solid advising program from high school through college can lead to a 23% increase in bachelor’s degrees being achieved in four years, with numbers jumping exponentially after five and six years, to more than 50%. The City University of New York’s ASAP initiative is one that showed a doubling in the completion among those who took part in the cohort group.

Another positive effort that has shown promise in getting students to reenroll and get them to completion are success coaches. A new InsideTrack study showed that institutions that deployed success coaches to help students get to the finish line saw a 275% return on investment, with those students boosting tuition revenue by nearly $6 million.

Not every program sees the same outcomes, but even those with smaller positive trends, such as one installed by Georgia State University a decade ago, not only saw degree attainment rise by 9% but saw gaps close between higher- and lower-income students and race. “Research has consistently demonstrated that college completion models that provide customized, holistic support to underserved students can have an enormous impact on students’ educational trajectories,” coalition officials said. “Solving it will take sustained, bold investment in proven approaches and research into emerging models.”

Among the organizations that signed on to the letter to Biden include the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Association of University Professors, American Federation of Teachers, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Center for First-generation Student Success, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Higher Learning, NASFAA, National College Attainment Network, National Education Association, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).