Colleges trying new ways to keep students from dropping out

“Finances are the number one reason students drop out. It’s not just school finances _ it’s life finances,” said Lauren Segal, president and CEO of Scholarship America. “It’s the day-to-day life experiences that are the hurdles students have to get over. And those don’t have to be big things. They can be small things — say, their day care goes up $100 a month, and that’s the make-or-break number.”

Only 29 percent of community college students earn two-year degrees within three years, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

At four-year universities, 57 percent of students complete bachelor’s degrees within six years. The Obama administration has called for raising graduation rates substantially by 2020.

But about a third of students entering college today are the first in their families to go to college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and a quarter are both first-generation and low-income.

“A lot of the issues that (they) have are life issues, not academic issues,” said Ingrid Washington, vice president of student affairs at Gateway Community and Technical College near Cincinnati.

Gateway loans laptops to students who can’t afford them and accepts donated clothes for them to wear to job interviews or to work.

“They’re so close to the edge, and that’s how they live every day,” Washington said. “Educators used to say, leave your issues at the door. You can’t do that anymore.”

At Mount Hood Community College near Portland, Ore., employees have found students sleeping in campus restrooms or in their cars because they were evicted from their homes. More than half work full or part time. Fewer than 22 percent graduate within three years.

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