Removing Barriers to Re-Enrollment for Adult Students (Advice)


More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities of nearly every size and type have seen the erosion of student enrollment, with particularly severe impacts among students from communities underserved. Nationally, almost a million fewer students have enrolled in higher education since the start of the pandemic. The recent wave of declining enrollment has come up against another long-standing trend: the demographic cliff. The number of potential freshmen starting college at age 18 is expected to decline by 15 percent or more due to a declining birth rate that began in 2008 during the Great Recession.

To stabilize enrollment and ensure long-term sustainability, higher education institutions need to look beyond the declining number of first-time full-time learners and focus on estimated at 36 million students in the United States with some college credits but no degree. It is also an imperative for social and economic justice at a time when an increasing number of new jobs require education or training beyond high school, and yet people from racial and ethnic minority groups are represented disproportionately in low-wage career paths.

But re-engaging students who quit isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy, nor is it as simple as politely inviting students back. Returning to college takes an extraordinary commitment for any student, but especially for those from underserved communities or low-income backgrounds. Too often, institutional policies and practices unnecessarily complicate the re-enrollment process by adding new hurdles and obstacles to an already difficult experience. For example, returning students often face a variety of financial hurdles and obstacles, such as transcript delays for unpaid tuition and fee balances that lead to blocked credits.

Even these small financial or administrative burdens can create major barriers to student re-enrollment. A investigation from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that 95% of higher education institutions withhold transcripts for one or more reasons, with outstanding balance being by far the most commonly cited reason (96%).

There are promising examples of how changes in public policy can help remove these unnecessary barriers to the re-enrollment of returning learners. In Buckeye State, the Ohio Department of Higher Education launched the Back to College Program, which publishes official guidelines on how publicly supported colleges and universities can forgive outstanding student debt in exchange for new tuition revenue. The Tennessee reconnect The program offers state-funded last-dollar scholarships for adult learners to make re-enrollment more affordable.

Some institutions are deploying creative financial aid strategies to ease the financial burden and entice students to return. The College of Marin in Northern California deployed COVID-19 relief funds to provide $2,000 cash grants to students who quit during the pandemic.

While removing barriers to access and affordability is essential, we need to go further and examine the ways in which institutional systems and policies create barriers to re-enrollment and educational success. At the National University, where I work, more than 80% of students are transfer students who bring existing university credits. We have taken the initiative to redesign our admissions and onboarding process to make it easier for students to verify their credentials. Specifically, we used our student information system to allow students to create and view a degree map and understand how their existing transferable credits and prior learning credits can be considered for the obtaining a diploma or certificate. This approach students saved approximately $25 million in tuition fees over a three-year period and enabled us to waive over 14,500 courses by granting credits for prior learning.

Institutions and policy makers should also invest in and develop comprehensive support services, such as coaching, career guidance and basic needs support, to help remove barriers to successful re-registration and reintegration.

New York State Legislators law Project it would require public colleges and universities to review re-enrollment policies that apply to students who have taken mental health-related leaves.

Meanwhile, the United Negro College Fund used philanthropic funding to build a network of eight historically black colleges and universities and one predominantly black institution with the goal of re-enrolling 4,000 alumni. The colleges have partnered with the nonprofit InsideTrack to provide one-on-one coaching for former HBCU students, removing barriers and helping returning students develop a plan to restart their studies.

Indeed, networks and consortia can also help advance re-registration work on a larger scale. The Higher Education Policy Institute created the Maturity degrees initiative, which has grown to include over 190 institutions in 23 states. They recently published a report on emerging best practices around credential retrieval. The report noted that many dropouts are “just a few courses away from graduating,” noting that the potential to successfully re-enroll significant numbers of students and help them finish is very much within reach. tomorrow.

Re-enrolling former students not only supports the financial health and sustainability of the institution: it is also an essential investment in the economic flourishing of individuals and the communities in which they reside. The Economics of Education Review recently published a study by Amanda P. Gaulke, an economist at Kansas State University, who found that students who re-enroll and complete their bachelor’s degrees earn $4,294 more immediately after graduation and see an average annual growth in income of $1,121. These are revenues that are reinvested in the regional tax base and in local businesses, helping to support our local economies.

Re-enrollment can help restore hope to students who were not always well served during their first experiences in higher education. To regain the trust of the learners we seek to re-enroll, we must redesign enrollment systems and processes to reflect the complex realities – and lived experiences – of returning students. Amid uncertain enrollment prospects, colleges and universities face a new imperative to engage students whose learning journeys are already underway and help them finish what they started.


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