Congress to Support Proven Education Program to Fix College Dropout Crisis
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The United States is facing an urgent education problem: the rising rate of college dropouts. The startling picture of the current state of college enrollment in the U.S. branded the decline as nothing short of “cataclysmic”, as The Hill reports. However, a solution seems to be on the horizon, backed by compelling research data.

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Key Takeaways:

  • According to the nonprofit research organization MDRC, an effective solution for the community college dropout problem is the Accelerated Study in Associates Program (ASAP).
  • The ASAP program offers wraparound services including tuition fee waivers, transportation benefits, book subsidies, and intensified advisory support.
  • Implementation of the ASAP program has demonstrated significant improvements in student graduation rates and post-graduation earnings.

Community college dropouts pose an overwhelming national issue, with millions of students beginning their higher education only to halt halfway through. This not only signifies wasted time and resources, but also signifies unfulfilled human potential. To tackle this daunting issue, the MDRC studied a program instituted by three Ohio community colleges, which adopted the ASAP model conceived by the City University of New York (CUNY) in 2007.

The ASAP Solution

The ASAP program, where students are enrolled in a full course load, developmental education courses, and summer classes, provides comprehensive services to help students successfully graduate. This includes tuition fee waivers, transportation benefits, and book subsidies. A distinctive feature of ASAP is the intensified advisory support, which is found to significantly improve student outcomes. With an average community college advisor overseeing around 441 advisees, ASAP advisors serve about 150 students, enabling more personalized guidance and support.

The program has demonstrated promising results, showing significant improvements in student graduation rates and post-graduation earnings. In the initial testing of the ASAP pilot program at CUNY in 2015, after three years, 40 per cent of ASAP students graduated, compared to just 22 per cent of other students. This pattern continued even six years later, with more than half of ASAP students earning degrees compared to 40 per cent of non-ASAP students. The program also boosted post-graduation earnings by 11 per cent.

Policy Implications and the Future

These findings indicate that the success of the CUNY pilot program wasn’t a one-time event. Programs like ASAP can be replicated on college campuses nationwide to substantially improve graduation rates and increase graduates’ earnings. Policymakers should take note and allocate additional funding to support such evidence-based programs.

Washington has already made steps towards this with the Biden administration’s proposed investments in college completion efforts in the original Build Back Better plan. Moreover, in 2022, Congress established Postsecondary Student Success Grants, which saw a funding increase from $5 million to $45 million in 2023. Despite budget constraints and competing priorities, wraparound college completion programs like ASAP have a proven, data-backed track record and deserve public support.

As we face a “cataclysmic” decline in college education, it’s more critical than ever to back practical, effective solutions that will help students succeed. The future of our education system, and the success of millions of students, may depend on it.

Why is U.S. College Enrollment Plummeting?

While solutions like the ASAP program are taking aim at the dropout crisis, it’s also important to understand the root causes behind the alarming decline in U.S. college enrollment. Multiple factors contribute to this trend, and recognizing them can help in devising comprehensive strategies to reverse the plummet.

  1. Many potential students are deterred by the skyrocketing costs of tuition and the prospect of accumulating massive debt.
  2. The rise of online courses, boot camps, and certificate programs has provided alternate avenues for education and skill-building without the need for traditional college degrees.
  3. The United States has seen a decline in the college-age population, and with lower birth rates, there are simply fewer students enrolling.
  4. During strong economic times, individuals might choose to enter the workforce directly rather than pursue higher education.
  5. The pandemic has brought unique challenges, with many students opting to defer or bypass college due to health concerns, remote learning issues, or financial strain.
  6. Some students might perceive a mismatch between the skills acquired in college and those demanded by employers, causing them to seek more direct paths into the workforce.
  7. For some, college enrollment is hindered by a lack of preparedness or accessibility issues, including geographic and transportation barriers.
  8. The mental and emotional toll of college can be a barrier for some, especially without adequate support systems in place.
  9. Changing societal views on the necessity of a college degree might influence potential students’ choices.
  10. Political and social factors have contributed to a decline in international students, who often make up a significant portion of college enrollments.

Understanding these multifaceted reasons is the first step in addressing the decline in college enrollment. Combining this understanding with effective programs like ASAP could herald a much-needed change in the educational landscape of the United States.

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