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ISSUE: Targeting former students for degree completion
OUR VIEW: ECTC program could bring many benefits
More students are earning degrees at Kentucky colleges, but it’s not enough.
College readiness is part of the equation, yet postsecondary education can’t wait to do better with the next crop of high school graduates. Students who have left the classroom can’t be universally written off, left dangling in a harsh job market, dragging down the perception of instructional performance and, likely, missing their life goals.
Too many students leave Kentucky’s colleges and universities by some way other than the commencement stage.
Fewer than half of Kentucky college students graduate from a public university within six years, according to the most recent figures of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Statewide, less than a quarter of associate degree seekers graduate from a community or technical college within three years.
Education experts cite a variety of reasons students drop out of college. These causes of attrition — reviewed at the 2012 Student Success Summit for faculty, staff and administrators across the state — are rooted in everything from academic preparedness to feeling isolated, from financial issues to institutional issues that can leave students feeling disconnected.
Postsecondary leaders need to identify strategies to bring good students back. Along with preparing high school students for the challenges of college and engaging students in retention efforts, bringing students back has to be part of the mix.
A $5,000 grant from the Council on Postsecondary Education is helping Elizabethtown Community and Technical College reach out to such students.
The college was among 11 Kentucky institutions to receive money to identify and assist students who have completed at least 75 percent of the requirements for a diploma or degree.
The money enabled school representatives to contact 740 students from the past three years. In November, ECTC conducted =an event for re-enrollment and meeting with advisers and financial aid staff. Similar meetings could be held later.
The November meeting led to 26 students re-enrolling and school officials expect more. Some students expressed interest in coming back to school in the fall, so ECTC representatives will follow up with them in the spring and summer.
To qualify for the grant, schools had to create a program that addressed causes of attrition. ECTC’s activity addresses motivation by talking to students about the increased earning potential that comes with a completed degree.
Along the way, officials learned something interesting about their former students, too.
At first, Sue French, ECTC dean of instructional and professional development, thought they would find students needed more help with reading, writing and math skills because of the remedial work many students already are doing. But these students — further along in their college careers with 75 percent of their requirements complete — usually left school for financial and family reasons, French said. So, advisers were sure to provide guidance on financial aid and online classes, too.
It’s great news that, as this program indicates, information and encouragement can bring students back. Providing information and encouragement is doable and worth improving someone’s quality of life.
Still, it’s not just students and colleges that benefit. A higher number of college graduates equates to a more skilled workforce. That can fuel innovation and economic growth. It also equates to a better perceived quality of the workforce, which helps local and state organizations compete for jobs.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.