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How Colleges Keep Students from Dropping Out

Graduation ceremony last year at Georgia State University. The school has won praise for its efforts to keep students from dropping out. (Photo from Georgia State University)
Graduation ceremony last year at Georgia State University. The school has won praise for its efforts to keep students from dropping out. (Photo from Georgia State University)
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Tyler Mulvenna worked three jobs last summer, but was still short the money he needed to pay for college.

Mulvenna, 21, a junior at Georgia State University in Atlanta, got a small gift of money from his college. That allowed him to live at school and attend class.

Georgia State used the gifts, usually under $1,000, and other programs to increase graduation rates by 22 percentage points since 2006.

The school also watches student performance for early signs of trouble, such as missing classes, not completing work, or low test scores.

The idea, said Vice Provost Timothy Renick, is to help before problems grow and force students to leave school.

About 59 percent of college students graduate within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That means many students leave college before graduating.

At Georgia State, the rate is 55 percent, but much higher than 10 years ago.

Georgia State is a school with 50,000 students, including many minority students. They are often the first in their families to attend college.

Tyler Mulvenna
Tyler Mulvenna

Mulvenna plans to graduate next year from Georgia State – making him the first in his family to complete college. He credits the school with helping him meet the demands of college.

An academic adviser helped him organize school work so he could get better grades, he said. Another helped plan a study year in France.

For his first two years, Mulvenna traveled to Georgia State from his home in Newnan, either taking a public bus or driving. It took at least 45 minutes, often longer because of Atlanta’s heavy traffic.

“I would start my commute at 7:30 a.m., return around 4:30 p.m., then work at the YMCA from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and then do it all over again the next day,” he said.

Mulvenna wanted to live at school his junior year to save travel time and enjoy campus life more. The small money gift from Georgia State made that possible.

Renick, the Georgia State administrator, said the college was losing about 1,000 students a semester because they ran out of money after paying tuition for three years.

“For a very small investment, we are helping more of our students to graduate,” Renick said.

At Georgia State, tuition and fees are $11,866 a year for Georgia residents and $30,000 for people from outside Georgia.

Albion College in Michigan is very different from Georgia State University. It is much smaller, about 1,400 students, and, it is a private school with higher tuition, about $41,000 a year.

But it, too, had a problem -- losing students who did poorly on tests their first year of college.

Those students were placed on a watch list, Albion said. About 10 years ago, three of every four students on the watch list dropped out in two years.

Officials credit its Academic Success program with doubling the number of these students who remained at Albion.

It includes a class that teaches good study skills. The class also offers information about emotional factors that lead to success or failure.

The program also requires students to attend three, two-hour study sessions. The students also have an academic staffer and a psychologist to offer individual help.

Many of the students were just not putting “out the effort” needed to do well in college,’’ said Barry Wolf, a psychologist who designed the program. Individual help, he said, allows the school to deal with the “different reasons” students fail.

Colleges are sensitive about dropout rates. Students and their parents might reject a college that has high dropout rates.

One college president was fired over his attempt to lower dropout rates.

Mount Saint Mary’s College in Maryland asked students a series of questions to measure how they might do in first-year classes.

The results were used to urge those who scored low to drop out in the first weeks of the school year. That way, they would not count on reports that measure dropouts.

Mount Saint Mary’s student newspaper in February reported the president’s actions. Six weeks later, the president resigned.

For Tyler Mulvenna, who is finishing up his junior year at Georgia State, the future looks bright. He is hoping for a good job in business.

“I hope that whatever I do, I’ll be able to do something I’ve been hoping to do since I was 15,” said Mulvenna. That includes travel, giving money to good causes and continuing to serve others, he said.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

software n. the programs that run on a computer and perform certain functions

commuten. to travel regularly to and from a place and especially between where you live and where you work or go to school

semestern. one of two usually 18-week periods that make up an academic year at a school or college

tuitionn. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

psychologistn. scientist who specializes in the study and treatment of the mind and behavior

dropoutn. someone who leaves a school