Findings of National College Completion Project Unveiled

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by Ronald Roach

IHEP

David Devier of Clark State, Kristy Bishop of Metropolitan Community College and Dan Kellogg of Wisconsin-Stevens Point discuss the results of Project Win-Win. (Photo by Ronald Roach)

WASHINGTON — More than 100 college administrators and state higher education officials convened Tuesday in Washington to learn the results of a three-year national college completion project. The initiative has enabled more than 4,000 people to gain associate degrees they had previously earned but had not claimed.

During “Getting Across the Finish Line with Project Win-Win,” a day-long policy forum organized by the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP), participating administrators as well as other invited higher education officials heard Dr. Clifford Adelman, an IHEP senior associate, as well as participant panels describe the experience of implementing Project Win-Win, which operated in a total of 61 schools.

Undertaken in 2010, Project Win-Win has focused on helping community colleges and four-year public institutions identify former students whose academic records qualified them for an associate’s degree and on awarding those degrees retroactively. In addition, the participating schools identified former students who had fallen a few credits short of a two-year degree and sought to re-enroll them so that they could earn their degree. The four-year institutions were chosen as participants because they were authorized to award two-year degrees.

“There are a lot of people interested in finding out what we learned from this project because we were in nine states at 61 institutions,” Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, the IHEP president, told Diverse. Fifty-one of those institutions are community colleges. Project schools are in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to IHEP.

The initiative has been organized as a partnership of IHEP and the State Higher Education Executive Officers organization, and funded largely by the Lumina Foundation for Education. IHEP officials say Project Win-Win emerged out of the national effort to increase U.S. degree attainment and to develop strategies for increasing completion, particularly at institutions granting associate’s degrees.

Results presented at the forum indicated that a pool of 130,650 students initially came under scrutiny for the project and the participating schools focused on 43,136 of them on which to conduct degree audits. The rest of the students, or 85,658, had earned degrees or had re-enrolled at other institutions. Out of the 43,136, officials determined that 6,455 qualified as “eligible,” or those able to receive a degree retroactively, and 20,835 were deemed as “potentials,” meaning they were just a few credits shy of qualifying for a degree.

IHEP data revealed that 4,260 eligibles have been awarded degrees and 875 potentials are returning to school in an effort to finish their degrees. After presenting the Project Win-Win findings, Adelman took the opportunity to praise administrators for their hard work for participating in the project and to speak about its impact.

“This was about students—real flesh and blood people who have gone through our system,” he told the forum audience.

Adelman told Diverse that full details and documentation of Project Win-Win will be released in an IHEP publication within several weeks. He noted that many of the audience members were from schools and state higher education systems that did not participate in Project Win-Win but are eager to learn and replicate it.

“They want to know how to do this tomorrow, and that’s why they’re listening to [the Project Win-Win participants],” Adelman said.

Dan Kellogg, the registrar at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, told Diverse that, as one of the four-year schools participating in Project Win-Win, his school has awarded two-year degrees to former students. “The opportunity to notify a student that our files show [he or she is] eligible for an associate’s degree has been a great opportunity; it has been a win-win for the student, [and] a win-win for the university,” he said.

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