State Capital Notes ...
Amid enrollment declines, state systems turn to new policies to fill seats and improve college completion
Many state colleges and universities throughout the region are facing enrollment declines after a nationwide period of growth between 2006 and 2011 that saw overall enrollment increase by 3.2 million students. Among the reasons for this drop off is the improving economy, which is pulling potential students away from school toward the workforce, and the large decline in the number of high school graduates, projected to decrease by nearly 20% in New England by 2028. Because empty seats don’t generate revenue, state university systems are introducing new initiatives and policies with an aim to attract new students and keep existing students in school through graduation.
In Connecticut, where overall enrollment dropped by nearly 900 students this fall, an initiative that has received a lot of attention is Gov. Malloy’s proposed “Go Back to Get Ahead” program. House Bill 5050 calls for $20.4 million to be used to offer up to three free courses to students who left college without completing their degree, have been out of school for more than 18 months, and currently reside in Connecticut. For students, this could amount to savings of $4,000 at state universities and colleges and more than $1,500 at community colleges. An estimated 170,000 Connecticut residents are eligible for the program, and the Board of Regents is counting on at least 7,000 students to participate in the first year.
In Rhode Island, state Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, the newly named chair of NEBHE’s Legislative Advisory Committee and Rhode Island delegate to NEBHE, has introduced legislation that targets adult learners with outstanding college credits and no degree. House Bill 7947 calls for the establishment of a three-year pilot program in collaboration with Charter Oak State College and College Unbound, a Providence-based nonprofit that works with adult learners, to test “specially-designed, innovative, and adoptable higher education alternatives involving distance education” for 1,000 program participants who are at least 21 years old, have previously completed at least nine college credits, and do not have a college degree.
One area in which state systems have been particularly active in implementing new policies related to college completion is student transfer. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research center and the American Association of Community Colleges suggests that effective student transfer policies are of significant consequence to college completion because one in three college students transfer during their academic career and students are twice as likely to stay in school and graduate if all their credits transfer as opposed to only a portion of them. The new NEBHE report On the Move: Supporting Student Transfer shows five of the six New England states currently have new policies or initiatives in development related to student transfer. Among them:
- Transferable general education core courses, established in Massachusetts and being planned in Connecticut and Maine, allow students to transfer a predetermined grouping of introductory courses as a unit to fulfill the general education requirements of the receiving institution.
- Transfer pathways in place in Rhode Island and in development in Connecticut and Maine provide students with a predetermined schedule of courses for a particular program or major that begins at a two-year institution and ends at a four-year institution.
- Reverse-transfer, currently available at the institutional level in Massachusetts and in development in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, is the process of retroactively granting associate degrees to students who have not completed the requirements of an associate degree before transferring from a two-year institution to a four-year institution.
- Common-course numbering, established in Connecticut and in development in Massachusetts, applies the same course numbers and titles to comparable courses across institutions to simply the transfer process.
- Systemwide common transfer policies exist across Maine two- and four-year systems and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and are in development for the community college systems of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
For more details on these new initiatives and all other policies related to transfer in New England, see the newly released full version of the report.
Matthew Hazenbush is a master's candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and NEBHE policy intern.