My Mind’s on the Money

You want to talk about completion? Let’s talk about money.

{Just click here if you’re not familiar with my ongoing discussions regarding the college completion agenda.}

Community colleges are under a lot of pressure to increase completion rates.  But if we’re going to increase completion rates without grade inflation or otherwise compromising the academic integrity of the institution, we have to address more than just academics.  One major area of concern, especially for the community college, is money. National studies indicate that financial issues play a huge role in student persistence to graduation. A review of the available research tells us this:

  • The average full-time community college student had more than $6,000 in unmet need in 2011-2012.
  • 66 percent of young community college students work more than 20 hours per week to help pay for school and their home and family obligations.
  • 58 percent attend college part-time to accommodate work.
  • In one study, 33.4% of adults gave cost as a barrier for job-related education, while 25.4% of adults reported cost as a barrier to non-work-related education.
  • More than 70 percent of students who drop out of community colleges cite financial burdens & work obligations as their main reasons.


Clearly, money (or lack thereof) is one of those “insurmountable obstacles” I discussed at the end of last week.

Students who don’t have the financial means to afford the full cost of attendance (tuition + room/board + living expenses) are far less likely to successfully earn a credential.  Those students are likely to attend school part-time and to work 20+ hours/week.  And we know that both of these situations factor into persistence (or lack thereof).

We also know that around 42% of community college students miss out on Pell grants simply because they fail to file a FAFSA. And filing a FAFSA is associated with higher within-year persistence rates amongst low-income students.

So money’s a problem—but there are some solutions (i.e. financial aid); however, if students are not aware of those possible solutions, they cannot take advantage of them and will fail despite their availability.  Many of our students lack what’s commonly referred to as “college knowledge;” we cannot assume they know how to attend college or how to apply for financial aid (or even that it exists!).

So what’s that mean for student success? Remember—we’re like a health club; we have all the resources available to get our students into shape (or to degree completion). But like the personal trainer, we have to show students those tools and how to use them (Gosh knows if my trainer hadn’t shown me how to use the equipment, I’d probably just have stumbled around the gym hurting rather than helping myself).  It means that community colleges, as open-door institutions committed to accessibility, must provide students with timely and accurate information about the tools available to them—the tools that will help them overcome those overwhelming obstacles. One of those obstacles is the cost of attendance. And the tool to help afford it is the FAFSA—and our financial aid counselors who are ready and willing to help students complete it.  The earlier we get that information out to potential students, the better.  (Attention future college students: FILL OUT YOUR FAFSA—sooner, rather than later).

Of course, money isn’t the only non-academic obstacle…but that’s for another post. Today my mind’s on the money.

Don’t forget: I have a disclaimer.

1 Comment

Filed under Community College, Higher Ed

One response to “My Mind’s on the Money

  1. Pingback: Campus Resources and Student Success | Wider than the Sky

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