Five of the nation’s leading higher education organizations have joined forces in an effort to benchmark persistence and completion rates for non-first-time college students nationwide. The collaboration comes at a critical time as an increasing proportion of enrollments come from adults with some college, but no degree and greater emphasis is being placed on educational outcomes.
The initiative is a cooperative effort between the American Council on Education (ACE), InsideTrack, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and the National Student Clearinghouse.
With millions of adults returning to college each year, institutions are eager to understand how well programs to support these students are performing. The problem is that the method for calculating persistence and completion rates under federal legislation counts only first-time, full-time students. As a result, institutions are left guessing how their efforts compare to those of their peers.
“Our national goals for postsecondary attainment will only be reached if we effectively serve the millions of Americans who began their education, but never finished their degree,” says Cathy Sandeen, vice president for education attainment and innovation at ACE. “Thanks to this initiative, the higher education community will have more accurate data on educational pathways and progress of this important and growing student population.”
According to Dave Jarrat, vice president of marketing at InsideTrack, colleges and universities serving returning students do not have the benefit of publicly available benchmarks on even the most basic student success measures. “In order to enhance student outcomes, decision makers need to be able to benchmark themselves and track their progress relative to their peers,” Jarrat says.
The study will be completed this fall and will be based on records of non-first-time students, with at least one year since last enrollment, who re-enrolled between 2005 and 2013 at higher education institutions across the country. The study will measure the aggregate enrollment patterns of approximately 5 million students from the Clearinghouse database, and the results will be segmented by level of institution, age, gender, geographic location, enrollment intensity and the type of degree being pursued.
NASPA vice president for research and policy, Brian Sponsler noted that the data will go a long way in providing student affairs officers the information they need to assess the effectiveness of their support programs. “As we provide supports to post-traditional students, we are pleased to be working with our partners to address a critical gap in our understanding of how these students are engaging higher education so we can ensure effective supports for them,” says Sponsler.
Bob Hansen, CEO of UPCEA reiterated the value of this data to leaders in professional, continuing and online education. He called the project, “a natural extension of our work over the last century to encourage the success of the contemporary learner and the programs that support them.”
Asked for his take on the initiative, Dr. Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center said, “We appreciate the opportunity to show how the Clearinghouse can enable education professionals’ understanding of specific student populations and complex questions regarding student pathways. This project demonstrates what’s possible when organizations join forces to address a critical need, and also highlights the value of institutions collaborating with supporting organizations to drive understanding and improved outcomes in higher education.”