6 Ways to Remove Hidden Barriers to Graduation with Civitas Learning

6 Ways to Remove Hidden Barriers to Graduation

Blog Scaling Student Success

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Nearly 1 in 5 students who don’t graduate from college have earned 75 percent or more of their degree requirements. And 1 in 10 students who don’t graduate has earned 90 percent or more of their degree requirements.

Why are students not completing their degrees when they are already so close to the finish line? It is astounding that many students are so close to graduation, especially since overall 6-year college completion rates have hovered around 60 percent for nearly a decade. Students who stop out of college face a range of issues – from not having enough financial aid to dealing with family health issues to not finding courses that work with their busy lives. 

Not completing a degree isn’t just detrimental to students. Student attrition is expensive for institutions, costing them $3.8 billion in lost earnings each year. 

While many students aren’t graduating because of personal or financial challenges beyond their control, institutions can remove many hidden barriers to completion with precise, data-informed practices and policies.

Ways to Remove Barriers to College Completion

1. Create an Inclusive Enrollment Experience

A wide range of needs can lead students from all backgrounds to struggle with navigating course enrollment. Although a student may have access to an advisor to help them along the way, it is often challenging to access guidance because communication is limited to one channel or appointment windows don’t match their schedule. Difficulty accessing an advisor can result in registering for the wrong classes,  late registration, or even failure to register,  limiting a student’s ability to persist or complete their degree program on time and on budget.

Advisors can create more inclusive enrollment experiences by offering appointment modalities and communication channels, like text messaging,  that meet diverse student needs. Actionable analytics combined with intelligent case management and communication tools make it possible to offer more personalized services at scale. When the enrollment process accommodates known and unknown needs, students can enroll in course schedules that support their priorities, preferences, and goals empowering them to complete their degrees on time.

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2. Offer Courses When Students Need Them

Both traditional and non-traditional students lead complex lives. Many students struggle to balance their education with other time commitments like work, caregiving, internships, co-curricular activities, student organizations, and commutes. When it’s difficult to find courses that accommodate their busy lives, many students under-enroll in classes or stop out of college altogether. 

One important way institutions can easily remove barriers to completion is by providing course offerings that help students balance their learning with their lives. Copy and pasting last year’s data doesn’t factor in current enrollment data or accommodate for shifts in modality preferences. Predict and track section demand, course-fill rates, and break patterns based on historical and current enrollment data, along with student planning data, to help your institution plan future terms that better accommodate evolving student needs. Better understanding student scheduling needs enables you to provide course modalities and offerings that make it easier for students to build schedules that work with their lives instead of against them.

3. Make Academic Planning Easy

First-time and returning students alike often find it challenging to create a schedule that keeps them on track with their degree plan. Uncertainty about what to take and how to build a schedule that works for them can lead to high stress and anxiety levels. Confusion about what to enroll in can also delay registration, making it even more challenging to get a spot in the classes they need, leading to delays in graduation.  

An integrated planning and advising platform empower students to take the lead in their college experience with the support of the watchful eyes of an advisor. Students can explore their scheduling and planning options on their terms and gain clarity about their path to a credential or degree, while also collaborating directly with their advisor all in one place.

4. Provide Holistic Student Support

Many students fail to complete their degree on time or at all because of circumstances beyond their control. Financial insecurity, mental health challenges, and gaps in their most basic human needs thwart their ability to succeed in their classes. More and more institutions have been moving beyond academic support to include holistic resources like on-campus food banks, emergency funds, and childcare services. 

Identifying behavioral flags before it’s too late allows the student success team to connect students to the holistic support needed to continue with their education despite challenging personal circumstances.  Real-time access to various kinds of student data, including academic, LMS, SIS, and card swipe activity, paint a complete picture of which students need support and the types of help that would be most impactful. 

The ability to prioritize engagement by monitoring each student’s likelihood of persistence over time allows advisors to identify students in need before it’s too late. Real-time visibility into student needs enables advisors to help students that may not otherwise ask for help navigate extenuating circumstances that might stand in the way of their coursework.

5. Embed Academic Resources into Courses

The students who would most benefit from resources and support are often less likely to engage with the help. Finding creative ways to engage students with the most relevant resources can be tricky. Still, the ability to evaluate program impact on particular students and student groups with initiative analysis can reveal the precise interventions that move the needle most effectively. Once your team has identified which programs and practices are most effective, they can use various engagement strategies to make these services as accessible as possible to students. 

Our partner, Austin Community College, did just that. Using the Student Impact Platform’s initiative analysis capabilities, ACC confirmed that academic services like tutoring and coaching were effective for men of color at their institution. However, their service usage data revealed that this student population was far less likely to access these services. To proactively connect students to the help they need, ACC presents support opportunities directly to students via embedded services. In this model, the institution assigns tutors and coaches to courses with the highest rates of students earning grades D, F, or W (withdrawn). Students can easily access these services inside ACC’s learning management system (LMS), literally putting free tutoring and coaching right at students’ fingertips.

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6. Monitor More Than Persistence and Retention

Has your institution struggled with stagnant or declining graduation rates, despite a continued focus on improving persistence and retention? With 1 in 10 students not completing 90 percent or more of their degree requirements, higher education leaders must monitor more than persistence likelihood alone. A more comprehensive view of short-term and long-term success metrics can help leaders and their teams better understand potential barriers to completion earlier. 

Completion data is no longer a retroactive data point. Predicted completion likelihood is an additional success metric higher ed institutions can track to identify individual students or student groups who are at risk of not completing within multiple time windows and take immediate action to improve graduation rates before it’s too late. As an example, completion predictions can identify which students should be completing this year, but are currently at risk of not graduating so support teams can prioritize outreach to seniors who might have been otherwise overlooked based on high persistence scores.

Let’s Help Students Cross the Finish Line

So many students getting this close to the finish line only to not earn their degree is a tragedy. Let’s help students graduate by making it as easy as possible to access the guidance and support they need to be a success. Actionable analytics and an intelligent student success platform like the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform provide higher education leaders and their student success teams with the level of visibility and insight they need to remove hidden barriers to completion.


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