Today’s College Students: Overcoming Misconceptions

October 4, 2016

By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, both funders of NCAN, are working with their partners to raise awareness about the new normal for the college-going population.

“After looking at what more foundations and organizations can do to help colleges and universities graduate — not just enroll — more students, we began to realize that there is a lot of misconception about who college students are today,” states Travis Reindl, Senior Communications Officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

According to the New America policy brief "Breaking with Tradition," only one-fourth of students attend a residential college and have their bills paid by their parents. The reality for the majority of students is much different: 

  • A striking 42 percent of first-year students live at or below the poverty line;
  • Roughly 38 percent of students are 25 and older;
  • 62 percent are working while enrolled; and
  • 28 percent of students are raising children.

These circumstances create barriers for today’s students to complete their postsecondary education. In fact, New America estimates that the degree completion rate of these students is between 30 to 35 percent — nearly half that of dependent students who enroll full-time, straight out of high school.

We need to raise awareness and work toward solutions for today’s college students. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation suggest we can:

  1. #FixFAFSA by improving the user experience and eliminating unnecessary questions.
  2. Promote access to postsecondary programs and services before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. and to online and blended courses
  3. Support students with a clear route to a credential through academic roadmaps, redesigned remedial education, and an improved credit-transfer process. 
  4. Provide adequate and better-fit services for today’s students within colleges and universities: financial aid counseling, on-campus daycare, job placement, and specialized services for military veterans. 
  5. Encourage innovation and technology within postsecondary institutions to keep up with and support today’s students. For example, some institutions have adopted Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS), which provides students and educators “just in time” information to identify potential barriers to completion and resources to overcome them.
  6. Require institutions to report data on all students, not only first-time, full-time ones.

“There is still work to do,” Reindl says. However, many institutions and organizations have gotten the ball rolling. 

Rio Salado Colleges in locations around Arizona, for example, have incorporated a “rolling block” system of classes which provides 48 potential start dates for courses each year. Additionally, they partnered with 30 businesses around Phoenix to provide training programs where students can receive credit and a salary. 

The Gates Foundation and Lumina will continue to advocate for today’s college students on social media and their own webpages to connect with people and partners to, as Reindl says, “create a drumbeat that starts to rewrite ideas of who a college student is and what they need to be successful.”  

Join the conversation and share the facts about #TodaysStudent or #TodaysCollegeStudents on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you would like to share your story about supporting today’s students with NCAN, please contact Graduate Policy Intern Courtney Argenti.

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