Recruitment & Retention

White House Urges Colleges, Ed Tech Companies To Help Graduate More Students

Technology-enabled approaches in education are receiving attention today as the White House hosts its second "College Opportunity Day of Action." The President, Vice President and First Lady are prodding their guests — college presidents and executives from education technology companies and non-profits — to commit resources to helping students complete college, invest in high school counselors, create K-16 partnerships focused on college readiness and build up the number of graduates in STEM fields.

By the end of the day, the White House has promised, it will have announced "600 new actions" related to college preparation and completion. The event is also providing an opportunity to revisit comparable pledges made by a similar crowd of participants at the first day of action, which took place in January.

Among the many commitments to be made as a result of the event is a push for schools to apply predictive analytics and adaptive learning in meeting student needs and keeping them on track to graduation. Fourteen institutional members of the National Association of System Heads (NASH) have signed up to increase the number of graduates they produce by more than 350,000 between now and 2025 by putting predictive analytics to work in several areas: to help students select majors where the data suggests they can succeed; to identify effective methods for helping "academically underprepared" students get through developmental math; and to identify "high impact" practices that lead to better outcomes in college completion.

A 208-page catalog of commitments includes the California State University System, which singly has committed to graduating an additional 100,792 graduates by 2025. To achieve those numbers, the university system said it will tap "real-time data to inform decision making." That includes the expansion of a "student success dashboard" already in use to "derive statistical predictions of student success." The system anticipates allocating $4.5 million to support research projects that use the dashboard to develop new interventions and additional funding to buy faculty time for conducting research "of national interest."

On a more modest scale, the new American Women's College at Bay Path University committed to producing 2,662 additional graduates by 2025. The college, located in Springfield, MA, is delivering online baccalaureate degree programs to adult women that incorporate an adaptive learning platform, Social Online Universal Learning (SOUL). SOUL creates a customized learning environment that uses learning analytics, educator coaches, virtual learning communities and other forms of support to shorten time to degree completion and improve degree attainment. Bay Path U is committing $84.8 million through 2020 to scale capacity of the SOUL program.

Schools are also committing to creating more seamless transitions for the transfer of credits and better educational pathways between K-12 and higher ed for helping students prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. More than a hundred colleges and universities have committed to introducing changes in STEM instruction itself, such as shifting from lectures to more active learning, increasing student access to research projects in the first two years of college, connecting students with mentors and internships and wooing future K-12 teachers into STEM courses.

To support the STEM efforts, the Helmsley Charitable Trust is putting up $20 million to support nationally scalable STEM efforts, especially in community colleges and other schools with poorer students.

"A lot of college quads may not look like they've changed much over the last century — the people who attended them have. There are more minorities. There are more first-generation college-goers. Working adults are returning to get degrees so that they can reach for opportunities that right now are foreclosed to them. Students are more likely than in the past to study part time. They hold full-time jobs. They have families. We used to think of these as atypical students; today, they're increasingly the norm. But too many students who take the crucial step of enrolling in college don't actually finish, which means they leave with the burden of debt, without the earnings and the job benefits of a degree. So we've got to change that. All of us have a stake in changing that," said Obama in his remarks to the audience.

"On the one hand, we've got good news, which is 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, college was still seen as a luxury. Now, everybody understands some form of higher education is a necessity. And that's a good thing, which means more folks are enrolling and more folks are seeking the skills that they'll need to compete. But if they're simply enrolling and not graduating, if they're enrolling and not getting the skills that they need, then we're not delivering on the promise. In fact, we're adding another burden to these folks," he said. "If all of us work together — teachers, parents, nonprofits, corporations, school districts, university system — if we make sure they remain the best-educated generation in American history, there is no limit to what they can achieve, there's no limit to what this country can achieve."

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