The ABCs of student financial success are at the heart of everything we do here at CampusLogic. In part one of this four-part series, I shared an overview of our ABCs—Access, Borrowing, and Completion, and the critical roles each plays in the student financial success journey. In part two, I discussed the importance of standardized counseling as a key component to increasing accessibility to a college education. In part three, I detailed the importance of informed borrowing and the positive impact financial counseling can have on students. A former Director of Financial Aid and a strong advocate for making higher education more achievable for all students, in this the final installment of the series I’ll share data and connect you to industry research about the importance of improving completion for students.
C is for Completion
Completion may be last in the ABCs of student financial success, but it’s certainly not the least important of the terms. It’s our philosophy at CampusLogic that those who exit college with debt and no degree are worse off than those who never attended college. Any advances made for students in the areas of improving accessibility and driving informed borrowing mean little to nothing if those students fall short of finishing their higher education degrees. It is important to ensure students are better off for their struggle and sacrifice than when they started. By improving completion rates, schools can help ensure students are able to attain gainful employment, as well as enjoy career mobility.
In order to drive overall student financial success, there are key areas we need to focus on. It is important to increase access to colleges that are the best fit for students, and enhancements around borrowing should ensure there are no surprises when it comes to loan debt. The following sections detail other essential focus areas that will help guarantee completion as a part of every student’s college program.
Strengthening College Readiness
A Hechinger report looked at 911 two- and four-year public institutions and found that from 2014-15, 96 percent of schools enrolled students who required remediation courses. Additionally, over 200 institutions placed more than half of the incoming students in at least one remediation course at an estimated cost of $7 billion a year. These figures raise an important issue rarely discussed in higher education, that being college eligible and being college ready are not the same thing.
With the federal government looking to hold more colleges and universities accountable to outcomes and ensure that they have skin in the game, open-access institutions who bank on quality coming out of k-12 are facing a significant crisis surrounding academic preparedness of the students who enroll. But who is holding k-12 accountable for producing academically underprepared high school graduates? In the early 2000s, there was a push to improve high school graduation rates. Some districts responded by enhancing academic delivery and student services, while others responded by reducing standards and implementing work-arounds like credit recovery to increase graduation rates.
The result? An audit in the District of Columbia found that over one third of k-12 students who graduated in the 2016-2017 school year did so while in violation of at least one graduation policy. Some students who graduated had as many as four policy violations. In such cases, higher education is left holding the bag and allotting excessive resources just to get those students up to speed, which can significantly slow their completion or even destroy it altogether. And with 46 states not having high school completion requirements that align with the minimum admission requirements of their state universities, the outlook for bridging this divide is not good. It is also unacceptable and must be fixed. We cannot expect students to be able to enter college, and for colleges to retain students, when these standards are so disproportionately out of whack.
Implementing Multi-Year Financial Planning
Attending college is a multi-year commitment, but when students are making the choice about what school to attend, they are not given the necessary tools to manage a multi-year financial decision. Instead, they are provided a financial aid package and cost estimate for a single year. To resolve this, we need to tie back to a concept persistent throughout the ABCs of student financial success: counseling. Students, as well as those in the student's buying committee—family, friends—need to receive education messaging that is consumable and clearly outlines a financial plan for each year they plan to attend.
In fiscal years 2015 and 2016, 3.9 million students who had borrowed loans withdrew from school without a degree. If provided the proper tools to be able to plan and budget across multiple years of education, this number could be significantly reduced. There need to be impartial, knowledgeable resources that can delineate and help navigate scholarship cliffs against valleys of estimated debt over the long term and provide a road map for the entire financial journey to ensure that it’s a manageable one.
Implementing a requirement for a multi-year financial planning tool is key here as well and would:
- Result in post-completion payment estimates for federal and private loans.
- Empower students to interact with the financial process.
- Allow students to adjust to both cost-of-attendance elements and funding options.
- Enable students and parents to make better decisions and identify schools that are a good social, personal, educational, and financial fit.
By working toward these fixes, significant obstacles to completion can be eliminated for students before college even begins, allowing them to focus on the best possible higher education experience from start to finish.