What Students Can Do To Complete College

Academic Momentum to Complete Degrees by Clifford Adelman, USA Education Department, 2006. This is not a new study, but all recent research has confirmed his findings. I have prepared this summary below.  Higher Education Data – analysis is for  four-year colleges only; 8.5 years longitudinal data that follows same students through transcript analysis of their college careers.

  • 90% of students who leave their first college turn up at another institution after their first year (suggests first year dropout rates false).
  • Much data and reporting mixes 19 year olds with 31 year old college students.
  • See students as more active rather than passive in a pipeline from k-12 to college.  What should students do to persist?
  • “Pipelines” are unidirectional closed spaces with students passively swept along or leaking at joints, this is a bad metaphor for how system works.
  • Student path is not like a pipeline—starts, stops, moves sideways, pursues several paths.
  • 60% of undergraduates go to more than one institution, 20% go out of state, 7% area based in four-year institutions, but also attend community college, 8% “swirl” back and forth between four-year and two-year.


Advice for students on how to improve chances of college completion

  • Do not delay college entry after high school. Stay continuously enrolled, do not stop out.
  • Attainment during second academic college year is crucial –can recapture academic momentum and complete “gate-way core courses.”
  • Earning four or more credits in summer—positive contributor to degree completion, so enroll all year around for some credits
  • Part-time attendance hurts a lot in terms of completion probability
  • Remediation seems to help completion in four-year, less so in two-year.
  • Withdrawal or repeating courses without penalty is big negative in terms of completion

One comment on “What Students Can Do To Complete College”

  1. As a private college counselor, I think your suggestions for students to improve their odds for college completion are excellent. The only one I would question for some students is the idea of taking a gap year between high school and college. For students who are young for their class or not quite ready for college, sometimes a gap year provides the motivation they may have been lacking when they graduated from high school. I know gap years are not right for everyone, but I have had a few students for whom it made a real difference.

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