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New Study by OneGoal Sheds Light on Root Causes Preventing Students from Completing College Degrees

Many postsecondary access programs successfully support students enrolling in higher education, but completion rates for students from low-income communities still lag behind peers from wealthier families. 

CHICAGO, Dec. 2, 2021 – Just 22% of students from low-income communities in the US complete their degrees after college enrollment, compared to 67% of high-income students. To understand why, OneGoal, a leading US national postsecondary access and success organization, designed a year-long qualitative study to identify the root causes behind students withdrawing from higher education pathways, known as “stopping out.”

“After working with students for 14 years, we have seen that our programmatic interventions effectively close the enrollment gap.  OneGoal Fellows are enrolling in postsecondary institutions at similar rates as students from high-income schools,” explained OneGoal CEO Melissa Connelly, “but we’ve always been about graduation. Period. The next step for us is understanding what it will take to get more of our young people across the finish line to complete their degrees so that they can go on to build family-sustaining careers.” OneGoal Fellows are 1.5x more likely to graduate from college than the national average for low-income students, proving that it is possible to change the life outcomes for young people in late adolescence; however,  the organization will not stop until their completion outcomes are truly equitable.

The study points to four root causes that led students to stop out with financial barriers as the most significant challenge.  Social-emotional barriers like mental health challenges, a lack of social belonging, and a lack of knowledge for parents of first-generation students are also high on the list. A majority of survey participants named a combination of reasons, however.

Illinois State University Senior and OneGoal alumnus Elijah Wright-Jeffers stopped out before the end of his first year in college, “I had to live in an on-campus apartment I couldn’t afford. I also had to sign up for a meal plan, and there were just a lot of expenses that I was totally unprepared for.” Wright-Jefferson later re-enrolled after taking a job and saving money for six months, “I feel like if I had more knowledge of those extra costs before I started, I would have been better prepared.”

The $2 trillion social spending bill passed by the House in November 2021 includes $500 million for college completion grants. If approved by the Senate and signed into law, postsecondary institutions will be applying for these grants and looking for policy recommendations to inform how best to leverage funds to ensure equitable outcomes for students. OneGoal believes their Root Causes analysis delivers concrete and actionable insights as part of these statewide efforts to improve college completion rates for students from low-income communities.

Connelly says these findings are already informing program innovations for OneGoal. The organization has published a research brief with recommendations for those working in postsecondary access and success to reduce stop out and improve support for students to complete their pathway of choice. OneGoal is also presenting the study as part of a free webinar for the public on December 2.

About OneGoal

OneGoal is a national postsecondary access and success organization dedicated to closing the degree divide in America and creating a more equitable future for all students whose career aspirations require a postsecondary degree, certificate, or credential. We do this by building adult capacity across schools and districts and providing robust one-on-one advising to students so that more institutions can equitably support their students’ postsecondary aspirations. 84% of OneGoal high school graduates enroll in a postsecondary institution, and 75% of those who enroll persist one year after high school. In the 2020/21 school year, OneGoal reached more than 12,000 students through partnerships with schools and districts across the country. 

For More Information

Contact Stephen Barker, [email protected], (316) 734-1042

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