One of the biggest reasons students drop out—and what 3 colleges are doing about it

As the fall semester gets underway, many students are thinking about choosing their majors, Loni Pazich writes for Inside Higher Ed.

When choosing a major, most students won't consider how their gen-ed and major-specific courses complement each other—or whether the major's course schedules will help them graduate on time, she notes. 

And they shouldn't have to. Devising coherent and manageable curricula is the institution's responsibility, Pazich argues.

Without a streamlined curriculum, institutions may incur higher adjunct faculty costs, under-filled and over-filled courses, and create an incoherent intellectual experience, she warns. Students who are left to decipher course offerings alone won't know the logical (and shortest) sequence for completing all the necessary requirements.

5 steps to building a co-curricular major map

At San Francisco State University (SFSU), student exit surveys showed that the inability to enroll in necessary courses was one of the top reasons students dropped out. To boost retention rates, SFSU's faculty is reorganizing courses to better meet students' need for timely graduation and reduce reliance on adjuncts, Pazich writes. The institution has also established program review policies that encourage departments to periodically prune course offerings with student success in mind, she notes.

SFSU is not the only institution striving for more coherent curricula.

Virginia Wesleyan College (VWU) is now restructuring their course offerings to encourage student participation in high-impact practices like study away, research, and internships. Many of VWU's liberal arts departments are redesigning curriculum maps to guide students towards these experiences, which can set them up for career success, Pazich writes. 

VWU has seen steady gains in student participation in a high-impact practice. The percent of graduates who completed at least one of these high-impact opportunities jumped from 60% in the 2004 to 74% in the 2015, Pazich writes.

Austin Community College (ACC) is using the guided pathways approach to set its transfer-bound students up for success. ACC is restructuring curricula to better prepare students for employment opportunities post-graduation or to successfully attain a bachelor's degree post-transfer, she notes.

25 strategies for bringing guided pathways to life at your institution

Although their approaches to a coherent curricula may differ, all three institutions display a sense of collective responsibility for student success and a desire to maximize resources, Pazich writes.

An incoherent curriculum burdens students with persistence barriers, costs institutions tuition revenue, and chips away at public trust in higher ed, Pazich argues. But if leaders clear the way towards graduation, they can reshape the student experience and help rebuild public trust, she writes (Pazich, Inside Higher Ed, 10/12).

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