Bringing College Student Success to a National Scale

Author: Leigh Lynes

Although 70% of high school graduates head off to college, only 35% graduate with a degree. Enrolling in college isn’t the challenge. Making it through is. A post-secondary degree or certificate is one of the most straightforward ways to boost employment and earnings. Solving the college completion problem could unlock potential for students across the country.

It’s within this context that The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) unveiled a national policy proposal to bring more power and resources to improving college retention and graduation rates. Based partly on evidence and analysis generated by LEO, this proposal is well timed as the new presidential administration takes office with a keen eye to educational improvements that benefit more Americans.

This proposal is rooted in evidence—like that generated from LEO’s evaluation of Catholic Charities Fort Worth’s Stay the CourseTM—and aims to scale existing successful programs focused on improving postsecondary completion rates. These comprehensive approaches to student success (CASS) programs are operating throughout the country and have been proven effective through rigorous evaluation. A key component of each program  is individualized support through specialized advising, coaching, or mentoring designed to help students overcome barriers that threaten to derail their educational tracks. This advising is often combined with financial support, in the form of tuition waivers or other financial assistance, and referrals to other community services.

TICAS modeled its proposal after a successful federal initiative serving at-risk families—the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. The proposed policy would provide $1 billion in grants to states to support implementation of CASS programs at community colleges and regional public universities. The proposal includes technical assistance support to emerging programs as well as a reserve of funding in the form of competitive grants to help emerging models flourish.

LEO and TICAS are building on the momentum of highly successful convenings held in the summer and fall of 2020 that brought together policy professionals, service providers, funders, students, and researchers. These opportunities to collaborate helped drive this policy proposal forward, to advocate for leveraging what is already working and heavily investing in scaling those proven programs. Supporting adults—whatever their stage in life—through college to graduation day can impact their social mobility and workforce participation and reduce inequalities. And the right time is now for creating a bold plan to make this support available to college students across the country. LEO looks forward to continued collaboration with TICAS and our partners to use evidence of what works to inform strong policy proposals for supporting students.