The things colleges do that make it harder to graduate

Fees can surprise students, slow their academic progress

Fees and other bureaucratic obstacles that may seem small can hold students back, Mikhail Zinshteyn writes in the Hechinger Report.

Fees and other bureaucratic obstacles that may seem small can hold students back, Mikhail Zinshteyn writes in the Hechinger Report. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, only 53% of college students complete their two- or four-year degrees within six years; at community colleges, the rate is only 38%.

Zinshteyn argues that many financial barriers put low-income students at a disadvantage, such as paperwork fees, parking fees, library fines, graduation fees, and meal plan payments. Students may rack up additional tuition by taking extra semesters or unnecessary classes, which they may have to do if the courses they need aren't available.

Many students also encounter fees when submitting or requesting documents critical to their academic progress. For example, Zinshteyn says institutions may charge up to $12 per transcript for students who wish to transfer. College application fees range from $50 to $100 per school, and transfer applications for community college graduates to four-year institutions are typically about $70 when the student takes any time off before transferring.

Students who miss payments typically receive holds on their accounts, preventing them from registering from classes or continuing with their degree.

 "Using holds on registrations, transcripts, and other privileges is the only collateral that the school has over a student who owes them money," says Anne Gross, vice president of regulatory affairs at the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Also see: Forgiving students' unpaid balances can boost persistence—and revenue

Independent professional advisors, counselors, and advocates want to help students avoid these detrimental—and often unexpected—barriers.

William Moses, managing director of education at the Kresge Foundation, which funds organizations that coach low-income and first-generation students through the complexities of earning degrees, argues that if colleges and universities made reforms to keep students in class, graduation rates would shoot up.

Reforms could include better systems of communication and student advising. A handful of institutions, such as Georgia State University, use micro-grants to help students through financial road blocks and keep them in school.

Are academic policies on your campus hindering student progress? Use this diagnostic to find out

Many advisors have limited time to meet with students and lack solutions for students' financial barriers. Advisors may be unable to provide individualized support because they're responsible for so many students, says Rachel Mudge, a math instructor at Foothill College.

"It's precisely because of the sometimes seemingly impenetrable complexity of American higher education that a movement has been growing to provide professional mentors and 'success coaches' to students, usually from outside colleges and universities," writes Zinshteyn (Zinshteyn, PBS NewsHour/The Hechinger Report, 9/16).

How does your advising program measure up?

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