Fourteen thousand students dropped out of the Austin Community College District in Texas during the last two academic years. But the institution of more than 36,000 students has a plan to get some of them back.
Supported by a $770,765 Education Department grant, that plan involves reaching out to students and connecting them with career services, financial aid and other campus resources, along with re-enrollment coaching and advising services. By the end of next year, officials at the college aim to have a better idea of why students stop out, how to keep them in school in the first place and how to use campus resources more effectively to support them.
“Hopefully we get our students back—that’s the ultimate goal,” said Guillermo Martinez, associate vice chancellor of student engagement and academic success at Austin Community College.
The college was one of five institutions that received the first round of federal money from the new Postsecondary Student Success Program, which funds evidence-based programs and strategies designed to improve outcomes for underserved students. Congress created the program two years ago and expanded it last year, but its funding for 2024 is uncertain as lawmakers work to pass a federal budget.
Advocates say the grant program is a needed investment at a time when the national college completion rate is just 62 percent and the number of students who have stopped out has increased to an estimated 40 million. Despite the divisions in Congress and funding constraints, higher education advocates are hopeful that Congress will continue to fund the program, which has bipartisan support, when it ultimately passes a budget this fall.
Despite representing a fraction of the federal budget for higher education, the program can provide a strong return on investment, advocates say, adding that this is an area where a little bit of money can go a long way.
For the next fiscal year, the Biden administration sought $165 million for the program. The Senate is planning to keep Student Success funding flat at $45 million, which likely would be the best-case scenario for advocates this budget cycle. The details of the House’s education budget haven’t been released yet, but House Republicans are eyeing a number of cuts to the Education Department.
“In this political climate, having it maintained at $45 million would be great,” said Tanya Ang, managing director of advocacy at Higher Learning Advocates, a nonprofit that works to improve outcomes for students.