In our last post, we shared some of the information gathered by Complete College America about college completion rates. In their report The Four-Year Myth CCA shared some sobering information about the length of time that most students in this country need to complete their degrees. We think it is important for parents to understand the environment in which their students are entering higher education.
As college parents, we also want to do all that we can to ensure, or at least increase the chances, that our student will be one of the growing minority of students who will complete their degree “on-time.” So we wonder what we, and what our students, can do to maximize their success.
What are Complete College America’s Game Changers?
Complete College America is an organization designed to work with higher education from the state point of view. Their recommendations are intended for institutions and for the states. Parents can begin by understanding what states and schools can and should be doing. But then parents and their students can think about how they might implement some of these Game Changers personally.
First, let’s look at the states’ potential Game Changers as recommended by CCA:
- Performance Funding. Pay for performance, not just enrollment by attempting to tie funding to student progression through programs and completion of degrees.
- Corequisite remediation. Place many more unprepared students into college-level gateway courses with mandatory, just-in-time instructional support and provide remedial help parallel to structured coursework.
- Full-Time is 15. Incentivize students to attend full-time and ensure that full-time means 15 credits per semester. Cap degree credit requirements. Ensure college credits can be transferred.
- Structured Schedules. Use structured scheduling of classes to add predictability to enable more students to attend college full-time.
- Guided Pathways to Success (GPS). Default students into highly structured degree plans, not individual courses. Map out every semester of study for the entire program and guarantee that milestone courses will be available when needed.
These Game Changers are intended for institutions and many are out of the control of students. However, based on these, we’d like to suggest some ways in which your student might adapt and interpret these institutional Game Changers into personal Game Changers.
What can be my student’s Game Changers?
Perhaps your student is attending, or is about to attend, a school that has adapted some, or all, of the institutional Game Changers. Whether or not the school is addressing these issues, there are lessons that both you and your student can take to create personal Game Changers.
- Performance Funding. You may not want to tie tuition payments to particular grades or credits completed. There are many valid reasons why your student’s grades may be lower than expected or why he may not complete a particular number of credits. However, you and your student can commit to having a discussion at the end of each semester to evaluate how he is progressing. What are his grades? How many credits did he complete? Where is he on his path toward degree completion? While next semester’s tuition payment probably should not be based on grades, it can be contingent on a shared discussion.
- Corequisite remediation. It is up to the school to determine how it will place students and deliver necessary remediation. However, your student might be proactive in addressing his own needs. Help your student work to determine his shortcomings or weaker academic areas before beginning college. Encourage him to take a developmental class during high school or during the summer before beginning college to improve his skills and perhaps eliminate the need to enter a remedial progression of courses. Insist that he take placement exams seriously. Help your student think carefully about anything that he can do to avoid the need for remedial classes (which may not count towards graduation).
- Full Time is 15. This is a game changer over which your student has significant control. The federal requirement to be considered a full-time student is 12 credit hours per semester. Some students, and their parents and advisors, adopt the mind-set that it is important to be registered for 12 credits per semester. But they fail to do the math. A student who completes 12 credits per semester will need 10 semesters (5 years) to complete the 120 credits required for a degree. Students need to take control of their own schedule to ensure that they complete 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year. If your student feels that he cannot handle 15 credits at a time, help him think about alternatives such as a summer class or winter intercession class. The cost of summer classes (particularly at local colleges) is usually significantly less than an additional semester or year of full-time tuition.
- Structured schedules and Guided Pathways to Success. We’ve combined these final two Game Changers because they work together. Essentially, your student needs to take the long view and see his path to graduation as a map. He needs to know where he is at any given time during his journey. One of the advantages of using a GPS system to navigate is that it not only gives you directions, but often indicates your estimated time of arrival. As your student makes each decision, plans each schedule, chooses each course, he needs to evaluate how that fits in the overall picture of his path. Of course, most students cannot sit down at the beginning of freshman year and plan every course; things will change, he will want to explore new areas, he cannot know what will be offered every semester. But he can look at all requirements and sequences of requirements. He can work with his advisor to investigate which courses are offered every semester and which courses rotate. He can look carefully at course sequences to ensure that he starts them early. Looking down the road, looking consistently at the bigger picture, and knowing the ultimate requirements of his degree will help your student arrive at the end of his journey on-time.
As a college parent, you can help point your student toward the Game Changers that can make a difference in his outcomes. But ultimately, as in so many things, it will be up to your student to be in the driver’s seat. With a good GPS and good use of the college resources, your student will arrive at the end of his journey for an on-time graduation.