Report Examines ‘New’ Forgotten Half of Students, Ways To Improve Their Success

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

While access to college is no longer an insurmountable obstacle, many students who enter a community college do not attain a credential, according to a new report from the William T. Grant Foundation.

The report, a follow up to 1988’s “The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families,” aims to understand what the forgotten half of college students looks like today and how institutions of higher education may contribute, inadvertently, to their disadvantage, as well as how they can help these students succeed.

Using data from the Educational Longitudinal Survey (ELS), which tracked high school students from 2002 through 2012, the Foundation was able to identify six findings that challenge assumptions about higher education. First, they discovered that college is no longer a major obstacle for high school graduates, with 86 percent attending college within eight years of high school.  

Secondly, researchers found that only 20 percent of community college students attain a bachelor’s degree within eight years of completing high school despite a majority stating their intent to do so. Thirty-three percent of community college students complete sub-baccalaureate credentials like associates degree or certificates, the data showed. Researchers also looked at employment rates and earning payoffs among these students and found that those who complete a degree or certificate are more likely to be employed and have higher earnings than those who do not.

However, the “most striking” finding is that many community college students – 46 percent – attain only “some college” and no credentials eight years after high school.  When the data is restricted to students who enrolled in community college within two years of completing high school, it shows that 41 percent have no certificate or degree six years later. These students make up the “new forgotten half,” the researchers said in the report. 

According to the report, “college success lies not only with individuals, but also with how institutions can lead students to success.” While access to higher education has improved in the last several years, “the question [now] is how can students make better choices and how … can [colleges] implement procedures that result in better outcome for all students.”

The report outlines three research objectives the authors believe can improve the experience of students and increase their odds of success:

  • Research should describe the new college reality students face, including the path to credential attainment in community colleges and the quality of  job outcomes for different types of credentials;
  • Research can help improvement the counseling students receive before entering college, by looking at counseling procedures, financial counseling, and updating the information used in advising; and
  • Research should continue to examine reforms that can be conducted at the institutions level, such as alignment, procedures, and linkages.

“Students, educators, and policymakers need to see that ‘some college’ has little payoff; that baccalaureate degrees often have low odds and substantial obstacles; and that sub-baccalaureate options, such as associate’s degrees and certificates, have good payoffs and can provide a dependable path to a baccalaureate degree,” the researchers say in the report. Higher education reformers “can increase completion and credential attainment by improving counseling, guidance, alignment, systematic procedures, and school-employer linkages,” they continue, adding, “Research can help develop these strategies, which, in turn can increase completion outcomes without inadvertently providing incentives for lower standards.”

 

Publication Date: 2/5/2015


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