There’s good news and bad in a new report on college student success rates. While many U.S. colleges are improving graduation rates for full-time students, we continue to see achievement gaps for Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic students, students 25 and older, and part-time students.
How do we help them succeed? Students of color and older students are more likely to attend college part-time and less likely to finish. Many juggle school, jobs, and family commitments. Growing numbers struggle with food and housing insecurity. At one Colorado college, nearly 30 percent of students have been homeless.
The new Complete College America (CCA) report, supported by Lumina Foundation, shows how proven strategies help many students but leave others who face persistent barriers behind. It explores data from CCA Alliance members along with public data to highlight critical institutional performance gaps—and how colleges can act to close them.
For instance, improving course completion rates with tutoring and counseling can help students earn credentials more quickly and stay on track to graduation. Reducing the need for remedial courses (that don’t count towards a degree) also drives faster progress. And increasing the number of credits students earn per semester is especially helpful for students who face time and financial constraints.
Here are some steps, strategies, and solutions in greater detail:
- Close credit accumulation gaps and boost retention by ensuring every student has clear academic goals tied to career plans and a semester-by-semester academic plan to reach those goals.
- Improve gateway course completion rates and close race/ethnicity gaps by implementing corequisite support. For instance, at the University System of Georgia, students immediately enroll in credit courses while receiving extra help to complete gateway courses. Since USG implemented this approach in 2018 and 2019, it has tripled the percentage of students who completed gateway math courses and significantly increased those who completed gateway English courses. Most notable is an increase in success for Black and Hispanic and Latino students, who pass their college-level math and English courses near or above the pass rate for all students, effectively closing gaps.
- Close the retention gap for part-time students by increasing flexibility in scheduling and classes.
- Give students a running start by providing credit for prior learning (CPL) earned outside the classroom, including on the job and in the military.
- Provide tailored advising and a dedicated coach or navigator to help students when issues arise.
In short, colleges can enact reforms that drive success for all students. Over the past few years, CCA Alliance members have taken steps to produce more than 100,000 additional graduates collectively. With these insights, we must intentionally close performance gaps for all students held back by race, ethnicity, age, or income. By helping those who need it most, we will better serve all students for generations.