An In-depth Look at Student Enrollment Factors

A Q&A with Jonell Sanchez, Vice President of Education Solutions for The National Student Clearinghouse

Insights & Outlooks: There is currently a ban on the creation of a federal student unit record system, but there is increased interest from policymakers in understanding student success metrics– specifically around persistence and retention. Given your experience and the work of the National Student Clearinghouse: how can we reconcile this situation to ensure all interested parties have the information they need to support student success?

The National Student Clearinghouse data ecosystem encompasses over 3,600 postsecondary institutions and more than 13,000 high schools, districts and state entities, in addition to strategic partnerships with regional and national organizations. As the nation’s data cooperative, we aim to provide all stakeholders, including policymakers, research reports, products, services and insights that aides in driving all types of decisions that impact benefits to student success. We recently discussed this in detail in the following blog, “Clearinghouse’s Role in the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure.”

Insights & Outlooks: The National Student Clearinghouse released data revealing an increase in six-year college completion rates since the Research Center began tracking the data. Do you anticipate rates will continue to improve, stay stagnant, or decline? And to what would you attribute that anticipated trend?

To fully understand the scope of college completion rates, one needs to understand first and foremost that these rates are cyclical. Various factors such as economic conditions, student support initiatives, innovation in student pathway programs, student aid policies and state performance funding formulas, among others, are all contributors in driving completion rates.

The national completion rate for the fall 2012 cohort of first-time post-secondary students is 58 percent. Black and Hispanic student total completion rate increased considerably, to 48 and 57 percent, respectively, for four-year starters. Our services afford institutions data, research and insights to support and strengthen those institutions that enroll diverse students to help close equity gaps nationwide, in urban, suburban, and rural areas in the United States. For example, the completion rate for Hispanic students who started at four-year public institutions increased 8.3 percentage points, from 55 percent at the end of six years to 63.3 percent at the end of eight years. This was the sharpest completion increase of any race and ethnicity group.

Institutions are actively seeking more data on learners who have “some college, no degree.” As statewide Adult Promise initiatives expand across the country, there is a subset of adult students who need particular attention when it comes to improving access to and success through post-secondary education: more than 31 million adults have “some college, no degree.” This is why we launched our Reverse Transfer initiative and will continue to partner with institutions that seek this student data from us to improve college outcomes for all students. Watch for our Research Center’s fall 2019 report on this topic.

Insights & Outlooks: As the leader in U.S. postsecondary student enrollment data, what do you observe as the leading causes of declining post-secondary and undergraduate enrollments in the past school year?

As is the case with overall completion rates, post-secondary and undergraduate enrollments are cyclical but they are also impacted by other recurring factors as well. Among them, the economy, low unemployment rates make the job market more attractive for students than going to college. Also, regional population demographics is impacting the number of high school graduates. We also know that cost of attending an institution, the rise in student’s need to work and attend school at the same time, preparation for college and career readiness, declining international student enrollments and other contributing factors are impacting enrollments.

Insights & Outlooks: Since your tenure at The National Student Clearinghouse began in 2016, what major trends have you observed in postsecondary education?

In the past three years since I joined the Clearinghouse, there have been several major trends that I have observed. This includes the emergence of competency-based education, block chain, AI technology, and alternative pathways for students, among others. We have also seen a rise in public and private partnerships. It is also important to note that today’s students are more mobile than ever in obtaining the credentials they desire. They have gained credits at two or three institutions over time either in the classroom or online. It’s essential that students obtain the credentials they’ve earned along the way, which is why reverse transfer is so important. Through Reverse Transfer, four- or two-year institutions can securely send course and grade information to any two-year institution from which a student has transferred. If eligible, the student is then awarded an associate degree.

As life-long learning becomes even more common, it is key that students have a way to store their credentials in a verifiable and trustworthy manner. These new needs are the reason we are launching our learner platform called, Myhub, a one-stop destination that enables learners to access all their academic records held by the Clearinghouse from multiple institutions, order a transcript, digital copy of their diploma and manage their digital credentials. In the fall, we intend to make this generally available.

Insights & Outlooks: A recent nationwide report released by NSC showed that college completion patterns among Black, Hispanic, white, and Asian students who start at four-year, public universities vary widely across states. How can institutions better support underrepresented students pursuing four-year degrees?

As a first-generation, Cuban-American, I care greatly about underrepresented students. Like many of these students, I attended an Abbott School district in NJ where teachers cared but with very limited resources that hampered my ability to adequately prepare for college. I was able to enroll and succeed at Rutgers University because of the support of professors and administrators. At the Clearinghouse, we support many higher education stakeholders like admissions office, counselors, and others via our StudentTracker service to help many of these students succeed with the help of administrators.

StudentTracker is the only nationwide source of college enrollment and degree data. More than 3,600 colleges and universities — enrolling more than 97 percent of all students in public and private U.S. institutions — providing enrollment and graduation data on a monthly basis to the Clearinghouse. Through StudentTracker, administrators can query student data to perform all types of educational research, insights and analyses — quickly, easily, and affordably.

Furthermore, the National Student Clearinghouse works closely with a network of organizations, like National College Access Network, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, Achieving the Dream, Complete College America, Jobs for the Future, State Higher Education Executive Officers, American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities and others in pursuit of making data actionable to build process and program improvements that facilitate better outcomes for students.

This is especially true for those students who have faced hurdles getting into and through college, such as low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and adult learners. The entity is called, the Postsecondary Data Partnership, and we are expanding the effort during 2019 to colleges and universities that are involved in these organizations.