- To help make college more affordable and reduce student debt, the University of North Carolina System this fall capped per-semester tuition at $500 for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students at three of its colleges, driving a 60% increase in readmitted students at one of them, The Atlantic reported.
- Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University saw year-over-year enrollment increases of 19%, 14% and 6%, respectively, as a result of the state-funded NC Promise program. A significant uptick in the number of transfer students helped fuel the gains at all three institutions.
- Officials said the plan, supported by $51 million from the state legislature, resulted in better-qualified students. UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings told The News & Observer that the campus saw better grade point averages and standardized test scores from the newly admitted class, raising its average SAT score for incoming students by 88 points.
More colleges hoping to increase revenue and improve student outcomes are attempting to raise their retention rates or lure students who didn't finish their degrees. For some higher education institutions, those who didn't finish college can be an untapped market for recruitment efforts, with some 35 million adults over the age of 25 across the U.S. having earned some college credit but don't have a degree, according to The Hechinger Report.
Poor retention can create financial strains for colleges and their students. For higher education institutions, dropouts cost more than $16 billion a year in lost potential revenue, according to a 2013 analysis by the Educational Policy Institute. And for students, dropping out can leave them saddled with debt and no degree to help them pay it off.
Some states have ramped up their marketing efforts to draw these students back to college. Mississippi, for example, launched a program last year called Complete 2 Compete aimed at those who only need a few credits to complete their degrees, according to The Hechinger Report. The publication noted that more than 8,000 adult students in the state applied to come back to college in the first six or so months after the start of the campaign, though fewer enrolled due in part to colleges' struggling to keep up with stronger demand than anticipated.
Adults interested in going back to college can face more financial hurdles than other prospective students because they may have limited access to grants, have defaulted on their student loans and/or have other financial responsibilities. In response to these types of challenges, Wayne State University in Detroit announced a debt forgiveness program for students who owe $1,500 or less to the college and have been out of school for two or more years. For each semester participating students complete, the college reduces their past-due balance by one-third.
Aside from removing financial barriers, colleges can improve policies and services to help prevent students from leaving in the first place. Universities can focus retention efforts on several key areas, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, including improving freshman orientation, building a sense of belonging for students from all backgrounds, overhauling "weed out" classes to provide more support and better instruction, and using technology to pinpoint those who may be likely to drop out.