“The most important takeaway is that there are a lot of students out there who really represent a large potential resource for increasing college completion in the United States,” said Doug Shapiro, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center executive research director.
IU-Bloomington’s retention rate of full-time beginners was 76.2 percent in 2011, and its four-year graduation rate of bachelor’s-seeking students was 60 percent in 2009. The total graduation rate was higher when factoring in six- and eight-year graduation rates.
“Bloomington already has really high retention and graduation rates,” said Rebecca Torstrick, director of the Office of Completion and Student Success and assistant vice president for University Academic and Regional Campus Affairs. “So when you’re starting from a place where your rates are already high, it’s really hard to move them ?even higher.”
Most of the students in the study had very little engagement with higher education, having enrolled for merely one term. Researchers labeled these students unlikely candidates for return.
Some of the students studied, however, had more engagement with higher educations, having enrolled for at least two years. Researchers labeled these students likely candidates for return, or “potential completers,” according to the report.
“We think the most important way that these findings can be used by colleges and universities is to learn more about their former students and to help them find ways to, one, encourage them to come back and finish their degrees in cases where that’s feasible, and, two, devise programs and services that will make it more likely that they’ll be successful when they do come back,” Shapiro said.
In June, IU announced the creation of the Office of Completion and Student Success, the Interactive Graduation Planning Success System, and the Student Success Collaborative. All three initiatives are part of an intensifying effort to improve student’s four- and six-year graduation rates, according to a release.
“These initiatives are focused on freeing up more adviser time to meet directly with students,” Torstrick said. “So the initiatives help identify students getting into academic difficulty or who have had life issues happen that might lead them to stop out so that we can intervene before that happens.”
IU also uses the FLAGS early alert system, which allows instructors to express concern regarding student attendance or performance and targets numerous workshops and programs toward struggling students, student-athletes, minority students and low-income students, Torstrick said.
Nevertheless, students continue to drop out.
“You always try to reach back out to stopouts and to get them back into school to complete their degrees,” Torstrick said.
Once students have dropped out, however, because of changes in email addresses and street address, they are often hard to track down, Torstrick said. Furthermore, dropouts often cite poor grades, financial difficulties, family obligations and health issues as reasons for leaving.
“A lot of the reasons that students end up leaving are not things that the University can control,” Torstrick said. “So we’re working really hard on making sure that in areas where we can help students, we’re doing a solid job providing the needed support.”