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3 Approaches to Increase Equity for the Future of Education

By September 18, 2019

Graduation photo

By Allan Ludgate, Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

The United States sends more students to college than any country in the world, but we have fallen behind in the rate at which those students graduate. As of 2019, almost half of the students who start college in America do nosout complete a degree of any kind, and wealthy students are almost 8x more likely to have a college degree by age 24 than their lower-income peers. Students with “some college but no degree” are much less likely to find employment than two or four year degree holders, and they disproportionately default on their student loans.  

Student success is critical to building a better future for all. We need to close the degree attainment gaps for low income, underrepresented, and first generation students. Here are our suggestions for shaping the future of education.

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1. The Journey to College Graduation Starts in High School

A successful college journey begins in high school, through academic and social preparation, financial planning, and managing the college application process. Each of these dimensions present significant challenges, especially with the average public high school guidance counselor assigned to over 480 students

Being prepared to do college-level math and English is the single biggest academic predictor of college success. A few organizations are working to address this. For example, EdReady is a tool that allows high school students to assess their skills against college requirements. The state of Montana has made EdReady available to all its high school students, leading to significant improvements in college readiness. Standardized tests continue to be an important evaluation tool for many institutions, and unfortunately, privileged students with the resources for test prep still have an advantage here. As such, CollegeSpring provides curriculum, training, and data to help level the playing field for low income students.  

College is also expensive, and decoding “sticker vs net” pricing, financial aid packages, and the FAFSA form can be daunting for any student. UAspire advises students on how to maximize financial aid and minimize loan debt. And to ensure eligible students get the financial aid to which they are entitled, the state of Illinois recently passed a law making FAFSA completion a requirement for high school graduation.

Navigating the college application process and making an informed college choice are a particular challenge for first generation students. Nonprofits including Strive for College and College Possible help students stay on track, providing mentorship and guidance through the process, a role typically played by a student’s family in households with other college graduates. 

2. Making a Successful Transition from High School to College

You can’t finish what you don’t start, and attrition rates are highest at the earliest stages of the college experience, for both academic and social reasons. On the academic side, students assessed as not ready for college level work have traditionally been placed in non-credit bearing remedial courses. These classes are intended to ease the transition to college, but for too many students they are a roadblock – students enrolled in remedial classes are 74% more likely to drop out, and fewer than 10% complete a degree on time. Cal State and others have transitioned to a “co-requisite” model, where students are placed directly into entry level courses, but  with additional support and tutoring. 

Social isolation is also a serious issue for many freshmen, especially first generation students. The name of the POSSE Foundation came from a student who told the founder, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” In response, POSSE created a program that forms student cohorts as high school seniors who then attend the same college, ensuring they arrive with a peer network on day one.

Student photo

3. Student Success is Everyone’s Job

One of the common traits we’ve observed at institutions that lead at student success is a culture of commitment to students that reaches everyone on campus. These efforts go well beyond academic support (although those are important). Supporting students also involves creating a sense of belonging for all students and finding innovative ways to help students address crises as they occur.  

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro provides a great example of what this looks like in practice. It offers a two-hour training for staff, faculty, and administrators in how to identify students in need and guide them to available resources. Those who complete the training receive stickers to display in their workspace which read “UNCG Cares.” This low-cost, easy-to-deliver program reinforces the idea that student success is everyone’s job and signals welcome and belonging to students. Meanwhile, Indian River State College also promotes a culture of student success as its mission, with posters and resources all over campus encouraging the community.

The common perception is that when students drop out for financial reasons, it is the result of a large tuition bill they can’t pay. But looking at their data, a number of schools realized many students were being kept off of the graduation stage by relatively small balances. To address this, programs like UNCF ESAs help students clear these balances and stay on track.

Southern New Hampshire University has innovated in a number of ways to democratize access to a high quality college degree. Through a combination of on-line, flexible scheduling, competency based progression, and “all you can learn” pricing that starts at $5,000 per year, SNHU has grown to serve over 90,000 students nationally in addition to the 3,000 students on its Manchester, NH campus. 

The future of education must provide access and opportunity for all students. The challenges are real, but innovative approaches like those highlighted in this piece show what students can achieve when we meet them where they are and give them the support they need. 


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Deloitte Consulting LLP is a Premium Partner that helps educational institutions succeed with Education Cloud.

About the Author
Allan Ludgate
Allan Ludgate is a managing director of Deloitte Consulting LLP within Monitor Institute by Deloitte and works with schools, education nonprofits, public/private partnerships, and funders. Allan works with leaders to create scalable, sustainable solutions that strengthen student pathways from cradle to careers. He leads a group that’s working to boost educational attainment among low-income youth. Allan holds his B.S. from New York University and an MBA from New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business. Follow him on Twitter: @allanludgate