One state is about to pay students to persist

Massachusetts provides financial incentive to enroll full time

Soon students who begin their degree path at Massachusetts community colleges will receive rebates on tuition and fees after each completed semester—even after transferring to a four-year institution, Ashley Smith reports for Inside Higher Ed.

To receive the 10% rebate through the Commonwealth Commitment, students must enroll full time and maintain a 3.0 GPA. After completing an associate degree in no longer than two and a half years, they can enroll in one of 24 MassTransfer Pathways programs to receive free tuition at one of the University of Massachusetts campuses. The commitment rebate will continue to apply to fees, which are more expensive than tuition at some campuses.

Additionally, tuition and fees at both the community colleges and University of Massachusetts campuses will be frozen for each student upon entrance, making it easier for students to plan for future expenses.

Building successful transfer student pathways

The main reason officials are implementing the new commitment program is to provide part-time students with an incentive to enroll full time in the hopes of increasing degree completions and filling state workforce needs. In 2015, 59% of the state's community college students were only enrolled part-time, according to the state department of higher education. But taking more credits makes it more likely that students will finish their degree.

"We know this is not a perfect fit for everyone, but we think it will attract a growing number of students. We've talked to students and one thing they tell us is that they have unexpected expenses that go beyond tuition and fees," says Carlos Santiago, Massachusetts' higher education commissioner. "They talk to us about transportation, day care and books. What this does is provide them an incentive for every semester to get a rebate. They can get some financial amount back that can assist them."

Tools, technologies, and policies to promote student persistence

The decision to pair the rebate with the pathways program will help students stay on track with more degree-specific courses, says John Fink, a research associate at Columbia College's Community College Research Center.

"One of the key points of what we've done is that a student at any one of our community colleges can move and know exactly where they should be as they follow the pathways," Santiago says (Smith, Inside Higher Ed, 4/22).

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