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The Forgotten Student?

There are startling and worrying statistics in the Educational Policy Institute report on students who drop out of college. There should be better solutions for them when they re-enroll.

Michael Horn addresses a
segment of students to whom we have too long paid lip service, those who have
attempted to complete college before. The author describes that while he has
been writing a book about why people choose college, he has

“…listened to hundreds of
students tell their story about how they made the college—or any postsecondary
education—decision. Many of the students I’ve listened to were, at one time or
another, college dropouts. … Over a million students drop out of college each
year. Only 43 colleges out of 1,669 reviewed in 
 by the Educational
Policy Institute had a graduation rate of over 90 percent. By contrast, 1,132
of them had a graduation rate below 59 percent. And despite the increasing
amounts of energy and money spent on trying to retain students, the “Forgotten
Students” report observes that they still continue to stop out—often for very
rational and responsible reasons like supporting a loved one in a time of
medical emergency, or because the bills to live have just become too high to
pay.”

Why do we continue to
fail at this rate to serve students who have already signaled that they value
what a post-secondary credential, (degree or certificate) can offer? 
All of us are well aware of the repercussions that Horn summarizes.

“The impact of this on
students is well documented. Students who drop out rack up crippling debt
without the benefits that come from the earning premium of having a degree. There
is also an impact on institutions which is less discussed. The 1,669
institutions in the Educational Policy Institute’s study “collectively lost
revenue due to attrition in an amount close to $16.5 billion in a single
academic year,” according to The “Forgotten Students” report.”

Horn asks the critical
question

“Given all this, why
aren’t institutions better supporting students who have left their campuses to
help them get back on track when their circumstances have changed and they are
ready?”

The answers Horn proposes are varied and include: difficult to find and recruit them back; challenge to understand why the student dropped out; and how to use that to information to insure they support that student successfully upon re-enrollment.

If we do better in
understanding an individual’s circumstance, and use that knowledge to impact
their performance, will that help? Of course it will.  This is the traditional role of a mentor or a
coach. Our partners have taken this to heart and made it
a fundamental part of their learning programs.

Can we work harder to
understand an individual’s motivations and behavior? Of course we can.  We know that most of these students
are motivated to make a better life by using learning to help them get better
jobs and meet career aspirations. Our partners' competency based programs, workforce certificate programs, training and credentialing courses are explicitly designed to meet this need.

Will these students be at higher risk and might require more resources to succeed? Perhaps ALL students require more TARGETED resources to succeed.

Our
conclusion – Create programs that are specifically designed
for a returning student.  Insure
that you design these programs with flexibility in time commitment to balance against job and family commitments. Ensure you meet their motivations and provide ongoing incentive. Ensure you design support systems that truly
pay off. Use a technology that allows you to implement maximum flexibility while
providing maximum support.  These returning students will succeed. Success breeds success, your programs will grow.

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