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Scaling the Summit on College Completion

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

This week the Obama administration laid out a new “college completion tool kit” and called on every state to hold a summit on how to turn around the dismal statistics on how many students actually get a degree. As higher education leaders consider how to pick up that challenge, we’d suggest two voices that policymakers should make sure to have at the table.

One is faculty. Engaging faculty -- both full-time and adjuncts—in this effort is essential, in fact its difficult to see how we can solve this problem without them. Yet lots of institutions still find this kind of engagement difficult to pull off. Faculty members often enter the debate with very different concerns than, say college presidents or financial officers. In partnership with Achieving the Dream, we’ve developed core principles and promising practices for engaging faculty in changing institutions and closing student achievement gaps. You can find our first Cutting Edge Series paper on this here.

The other is young people themselves. In surveys of young people we’ve conducted for the Gates Foundation, we’ve found that people who don’t complete college tell an unexpected story, one that’s very different from a lot of the common perceptions. Most of them are paying their own way through school, and get relatively little help from the guidance system as they do it.

More than anything else, these young people are students under pressure: school pressure, work pressure, and family pressure. And when that pressure gets to be too much, it’s school that usually gets sacrificed. That’s why when we asked these young people what would help, they point to ideas that would give them more flexibility and ease the juggling act they find so difficult.

If we’re going to make a real difference in this problem, we need to make sure the challenges students face are front-and-center – and that the faculty members on the front line are full partners in meeting them.


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