The New York Times Reports on the College Drop Out Crisis

Beth Dumbauld

Nationally, one third of students who enroll in college don’t graduate. Students face countless hurdles once they’ve enrolled in college: finances, scheduling issues, the need for more academic support, prerequisites, college readiness, accessibility. Any of these obstacles can trip up a student and cause them to drop out.

Last month, the New York Times published an article examining the graduation rates of colleges with similar student bodies. The findings? Colleges with similar students have wildly different graduation rates. The schools with the best graduation rates, like StraighterLine partner college Bethel University in Tennessee, plan for each step in the college journey, presenting pathways and supports to help students overcome each obstacle standing between them and a degree.

While the New York Times piece shines a light on an important issue — colleges that provide support graduate more students than expected — the article focuses on traditional college-aged students who live and take classes on campus. But colleges also serve non-traditional students, many of whom have more barriers to graduation than the average on-campus student: they’re raising families, holding full-time jobs, and are often struggling financially.

Colleges can and should be concerned with preventing drop-outs among these students as well.

StraighterLine’s mission is to help colleges support these students by building pathways to a degree for students who struggle: they may lack prerequisites, need a flexible course schedule, or may not be able to afford to take all their courses at their school.

Removing obstacles for students

Some of the colleges profiled in the New York Times article are serving the needs of non-traditional students well. With a graduation rate of 74 percent, the University of La Verne in Southern California is praised by the NYT as being one of the U.S.’s “most impressive colleges.”

Nena LaScala, a mother who works full-time for a healthcare organization in southern California, enrolled at La Verne in 2016. Her enrollment counselor suggested that LaScala take courses at StraighterLine and transfer the credits to University of La Verne.

“I truly wouldn’t have gone back to college if I couldn’t take courses online and at my pace,” said Nena. “I have to fit school between work and family. For me, that means fitting it in between 5-6 in the morning, and after 9 pm when everyone is asleep. It might sound difficult, but it is a trade off I’m willing to make because, with StraighterLine, I can actually fit college into in my life.”

Expanding financial aid

Many of the colleges profiled by the New York Times are expanding the definition of financial aid; using funds to pay for living expenses and student emergencies as well as for tuition.

Easing a student’s financial burden can be as simple as referring students who’ve hit their financial aid caps to low-cost course providers like StraighterLine and accepting those transfer credits. We offer a $99 a month subscription that allows students to take unlimited courses online and transfer the credits to their college or university. This way students can maximize their tuition dollars, take courses even when they don’t have a Summer Pell grant, and complete college quickly and affordably.

Encouraging a full course load

According to the New York Times, one of the biggest challenges administrators face has been getting students to take a “full load of classes so that they can graduate in four years.”

Students may be reluctant to take a full courseload for several reasons: finances, class availability or work-life scheduling issues. StraighterLine courses can be taken whenever the student has time, are inexpensive, and unlike courses on campus, they don’t fill up.

Such flexibility helps students to stay on track in their degree program. And since StraighterLine courses are self-paced, students can take more than one course to accelerate their degree if they’ve fallen behind.

Strong student support

Many colleges in the New York Times article combat drop-outs this by creating more supportive environments for students. Students who take courses remotely often need support as well; StraighterLine students who enroll in self-paced courses don’t have a professor with office hours to consult when they don’t understand course material.

To help these students, we’ve set up a strong system of support. We offer tutors, a help desk, and a team of student advisors who are trained in a culture of care and are empowered to help any student with any problem they’re having in a course. This allows the students to get help when they need it, and address obstacles before they become barriers to graduation.

More about StraighterLine

StraighterLine partners with colleges and universities to create their own low-cost readiness and degree pathway programs under their own brands. By leveraging our course platform and suite of technology enabled services, our partner schools are able to quickly and cost-effectively create their own competency-based pathway programs for students who need flexible course schedules, inexpensive courses, or simply need to get back on track with their education. To learn about partnering with us, visit:

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