Getting “Near-Completers” Back

It is striking how many former students are out there who left college with plenty of earned credits but no degree. One of the strategies of states to raise their educational levels seeks to identify these individuals and give them a chance to come back to school and finish. Merely finding former students gets complicated quickly.

Here is the latest update from the Education Commission of the States, an organization consulted closely by serious policy makers. Some students left school for economic opportunity and have no interest in returning (a small proportion of very wealthy people are college dropouts). However, the report says, “on average, we know that having a postsecondary credential helps graduates earn higher wages and avoid unemployment and poverty.” 

A pair of interesting programs cited in the report are in Indiana and (of course) Tennessee—a state that always seems engaged in pioneering efforts at improving educational levels:

States and institutions can start by reconnecting with former students who have lost touch with their colleges, like Indiana and Tennessee have done. Indiana has worked to identify adult students who could benefit from state grants and still need to finish their degrees; then, they used phone, email and other outreach tools to personally connect with former students. Tennessee has used billboards, radio ads and targeted postcards to reconnect with former students already more than halfway to earning a degree. Information about financial and other support available to returning students, especially those disconnected from prior institutions, opens the door for former students to believe that giving college another shot is within their reach.

Texas has its own set of challenges and opportunities. Speaking anecdotally, in the classic scenario, a young high school graduate enrolls at a local community college during a downturn in the oil and gas industry, earning credits, but not enough for a degree. Then he (and males are more likely to fit the profile) leaves school when the oil patch revives, offering good jobs at high pay. Trouble is, when the downturn comes, as it always seems to, he is unemployed, now with house and car payments, and not enough education to enter another field. The construction industry in Texas is also booming right now, but for how long?

Many Texas community colleges have managed commendably to grow enrollments during the current spike of employment in the oil patch, but for the young man in the profile, maybe the information in the report linked above can help colleges get him back in school—for his own good and for society in general.