Colleges aim to remove financial barriers to completion

'We talk about student debt a lot in this country, but a part of the problem is students taking five or six years to graduate'

Colleges are taking a closer look at the financial barriers preventing students from graduating on time to improve completion rates, Jarrett Carter reports for Education Dive.

According to a recent study from NerdWallet, spending two additional years in college can cost students more than $94,000 in lost wages alone, plus even more money in lost retirement savings and the extra expense of taking more classes.

Improving time-to-completion rates has been of particular concern among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which have a collective 35% six-year graduation rate.

To raise completion rates, HBCU Virginia State University started the "Trojan Advance" initiative, which allows incoming freshmen and transfer students to take summer classes for $199 per course. The program offers both general education courses and courses for specific majors. Students who earn at least a "B" grade receive a $100 rebate.

Another HBCU, Howard University, recently rewarded 1,000 spring graduates who met graduation requirements within four years with a 50% rebate on tuition for their final semester.

Finish in four: Supporting on-time graduation for low-income students

"We talk about student debt a lot in this country, but a part of the problem is students taking five or six years to graduate," Howard President Wayne Frederick tells the Washington Post. "The goal here was, in part, to give some incentive to finish on time. And to show that as an institution, we're not just interested in you getting an education, but we're also interested in you getting a very good start."

Colleges are also seeking to reduce the ancillary costs of higher education, which can be a major roadblock to completion. A recent study from the College Board found that for the 2015-2016 academic year, tuition and fees made up 39% of the total budget for in-state students living on campus at public institutions, and 20% for students at community and technical colleges who were paying for housing.

Community colleges in Maryland and Virginia are exploring open-source learning material options that could save students more than $1,300 each semester in textbook fees for certain courses. Officials at the Virginia community college system say that with expansion, the initiative could save its 100,000 enrolled students more than $3 million in ancillary spending (Carter, Education Dive, 6/23).

Nudge students to complete financial aid forms and graduate on time


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