College is a great place to part with large portions of your net worth and self-esteem, all while exiting without a degree. Just a third of associate’s degree students graduate within three years, and only 62% of full-time students at four-year programs graduate within six years. Not surprisingly, weaker students are more likely to struggle.
Many smart minds are addressing this problem, through programs designed to fuel students to graduation. “At my university, part way through the semester, they ask professors to report students that are going to need some extra help, so that the university can flag them,” says Kevin Mumford, an economist at Purdue University. “Universities do a variety of things to help those students, like peer mentoring programs. But overall spending on these types of programs is very low, and it doesn’t seem that they’re highly correlated with the increase in graduation rates.”
So how can you choose a program known for actually connecting students with actual diplomas? Conveniently, researchers recently studied which programs really do lead to high graduation rates, so you know what to look for.
“While of course we want broad access, we want broad access to programs that work,” says co-author Rachel Fulcher-Dawson, associate director of research operations at Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities. She says that successful programs share a commonality. “They take a more holistic approach. There’s acknowledgement that yes, students need help with academics and tuition, but that that hasn’t been enough — just look at the numbers of low completion rates for students that do have academic supports and financial assistance.”
Fulcher-Dawson says that winning programs provide “wrap-around” services that address students’ real-life hindrances, such as car repairs, public transportation difficulties and childcare dilemmas, any of which could easily derail an education. Many offer an assigned adviser who can help streamline school schedules or find nearby jobs. Here are top programs worth knowing about.
If you want an in-person program with broad services:
—Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). Low-income students receive a host of supports, including tutoring, a study-skills course, free use of textbooks, and an advisor with a small caseload who will address details like transferring to a four-year university or talking to faculty as needed. Started at the City University of New York, the program has been successfully replicated in Ohio, and is cropping up at a number of community colleges, with over 25,000 students enrolled in 2019. “This one has shown the most significant impact on students’ persistence and completion,” Fulcher-Dawson says.
If you want a nationwide, easily accessible program:
—Inside Track. This virtual program assigns each student a coach who helps achieve goals and avoid barriers. This is a well-known and well-evaluated program, with over 2 million students in 20 years, and more than 4,000 current outposts. It’s run by a nonprofit, and, notably, serves students of all incomes, though it tends to cater to adult students.
If you want a program at a big public university: