Surprising Services Truly Help College Students Succeed
Best programs provide all-around support, mentoring, tutoring
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 advisor 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:
MAAP. This program, aimed at helping low-income and first-generation students navigate university life, can be found at four-year public universities in 11 states. Students receive intensive academic advising, and are closely tracked so that help is offered before they veer off path.
If you want a healthcare job ASAP:
Project Quest. This program’s strong end game helps students identify a health career path and secure a job upon graduation. It’s soup-to-nuts, starting with non-students and supporting them through degree programs via weekly meetings on college skills, creative financial assistance (tuition, transportation, tutoring, etc.), academic support, counseling, and referrals to useful programs like utility bill assistance.
If you want strong one-on-one support.
Stay the Course. The calling card of this program is intensive, one-on-one case management by trained social workers who help students through academic and life events. This program is swiftly spreading to community colleges nationwide after a successful launch and evaluation in Fort Worth, Texas.
After years steeped in the details of these programs, Fulcher-Dawson says there’s no real downside in enrolling in a well-regarded program. “The odds are stacked against students for completing a degree,” she says. A few pointers:
—Don’t wait. Some programs only accept students early in their college careers. Contact your student counseling office, and ask what programs are available. More are generally present at two-year community colleges.
—Know that you’re probably “low-income.” Most full-time students are. Some programs have income caps. If your income will be plummeting once you start classes, get in touch with a support program and explain that.
—Seek programs that have been rigorously evaluated. Ideally, you want to see randomized, controlled trials. Typically programs that have undergone evaluation with good results will happily plaster this information on their websites.
—Consider picking a school with a well-known program. If you’re a borderline student, it’s worthwhile to hedge your bets and choose a college that works with one of the programs listed above.
“Don’t feel frustrated that college is not as easy as just signing up for school and then being done with it,” Fulcher-Dawson says. “There are lots of things that can get in your way, and these programs are really designed to navigate that.”