- October 24, 2013
- 4:31 pm
Persistsence Beneficial for Students and Institutions
Student persistence in higher education is becoming a more visible issue today. A proposed new federal rating system’s broad goal is to determine “how many students at an institution graduate, at a reasonable cost, without a lot of debt, and get a job that enables them to suppot themselves and their families.”  It seems likely that future federal funding will be tied to these performance metrics.
To advance degree completion rates, a number of state guvernments have implemented pserformance funding models. In Illinois, this model rewards progress in increasing degree completion and serving underrepresented populations (Pell eligible, adults and Hispanic and Black students). The Illinois system also rewards increases in completion in STEM and health shortage areas. Other states are further along in implementing similar systems.
Accrediting bodies are entering this field as well. According to the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission, completion is now and accreditation criterion. Institutions must demonstrate a commitment ”a commitment to educational improvement through ongoing ongoing attention to retention, persistence, and completion rates in its degree and certificate programs.”  This requires that higher education must set goals; gather information, act on the information, and use best practices to enhance persistence.
The total degree completion rates – including those who transfer and complete at another institution are as follows:
- Four-Year Private Nonprofit 71.5%;
- Four-Year Public, 60.6%;
- Four-Year Private For-Profit 42.8%; and
- Two-Year Public 36.3%. 
There is room for improvement. Within these sectors, there is wild variation in the completion rates. In Illinois, we have a Four-Year Private Nonprofit with a completion rate of 94% and another with 16%. Among the Four-Year Publics we see rates as high as 83% and as low as 20%. The for-profit sector generally performs at a lower level but has a wide variation as well with a high of 70% and a low of 11%.
So, why is this an issue for those of us who serve adult students?
There is significantly more room for improvement in the persistence of adult students. In one National Center for Education Statistics study 65% of adult students abandoned the goal of the B.A. after five years of study. Of that 65%, 42% dropped out completely and 23% shifted their goal downward to a certificate or associate degree. Only 35% of the adult students who had begun their degree actually graduated or were still enrolled after five years. 
Adult students have a unique set of challenges as well as strengths that they bring to college upon returning or in starting their college career. To help students persist, institutions must show a commitment to academic excellence, learner-centered teaching, flexibility, good course schedules, robust prior learning assessment (PLA) systems, good advising and coaching, strategic financial aid and effective orientation processes.
You will find more information on this article which was also published in the online publication, The evolllution, Illuminating the Lifelong Learning Movement, at: Persistence Beneficial for Students and Institutions, October 24, 2013.