Posted by: Gregory Linton | 05/15/2018

Civitas Learning releases report on students who drop out late in their program, but they ignore gender differences

Last week, Civitas Learning released its latest Community Insights report, which provided an analysis of data from 53 institutions (30 community colleges and 23 four-year universities) representing more than 300,000 degree-seeking students. The main finding of the report was that, on average, almost one in five students who do not graduate have completed 75 percent or more of their credit threshold for a degree. Also, one in 10 students who do not persist reach the 90 percent or more threshold. The report terms these late dropouts “near-completers.”

The report provides two other statistics that also raise concerns. First, more than 30 million people in the United States have earned some college credit but no credential. Second, about a quarter of all Americans with student debt from college do not have a degree. If these non-completers would go on to complete their degree, they would help meet the need for skilled, educated workers in the American economy. Consequently, Tennessee’s Reconnect program is encouraging these people to return to school and complete their degree.

The report provides case studies of colleges and universities that have targeted support services and outreach to near-completer students. The authors suggest sending emails or making phone calls to students when they complete 75 percent of their program to remind them of graduation requirements and upcoming deadlines and to offer coaching to help them finish.

Although this analysis is interesting and helpful, a glaring omission is that the report did not provide the statistical breakdown of near-completers by gender. The report discusses how to use certain criteria to predict a student’s likelihood to persist, such as full-time status, age, academic performance, number of credit hours attempted per term, and consistency of activity on an institution’s learning management system. Since we know that men drop out at higher percentages than women, why did they not include that as one of the factors to identify those likely to drop out?

Of the one-fifth of nonpersisting students who have completed 75 percent or more of their degree, what percentage is male and what percentage is female? Based on other statistics, it is a safe guess that a majority of these would be male. For example, the NCES’s Digest of Education Statistics 2016 indicates that, among the 2009 entering cohort, 56.2 percent of first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at 4-year postsecondary institutions who are male completed their degree within six years. However, 62.1 percent of females completed their degree within six years.

This statistic suggests that more men than women would be included among the near-completers and that maleness should be considered one of the risk factors for dropping out after completing 75 percent of the credits needed for a degree. Statistics consistently indicate that retention and completion are a problem for males more than for females, but reports such as this one from Civitas Learning ignore those facts. If we cannot correctly diagnose the disease, we will never find the cure.

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