Stacking the Odds in Favor of College Completion

Every spring, the spotlight shines on high school seniors’ college acceptance letters and on college seniors’ graduation days. Both are cause for celebration, but more attention should be paid to what happens during a student’s college years. All too often, the college-going high school senior never makes it to the finish line. Instead, the dream of college completion and a degree falls by the wayside.

According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 35 percent of those who start at four-year public colleges don’t finish. Those who attend private four-year universities fare slightly better, with 24 percent not making it to graduation. The numbers for community colleges are considerably more dismal. About 63 percent of students who start at two-year colleges don’t complete their programs.

Bringing those numbers up requires examining – and in some cases rethinking – various facets of the college application and selection process.

Dr. Kevin Fleming, Dean of Instruction, CTE at Norco College, posits that how we approach college decision-making is upside down. Traditionally, we start by selecting a college, then deciding on a major, and finally, after graduation, settling on a career. There are many places for students to fall off that path. They aren’t in a program that interests them, so they may not apply themselves. They keep going to class but don’t clearly see a goal, so they lose interest. They don’t see a connection between their major and a career, and so wonder why they should bother. There goes college completion.

Instead, Fleming says, students should start by honing in on a career they think they’ll enjoy, and then choosing a major or course of study that will give them both the knowledge and experience they need to succeed. Finally, they should select a college that has the program of study that will prepare them for their career. That will lay the groundwork for college completion.

Here’s a video where Fleming explains why the career-major-college track makes sense.

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About the Author:

Sally Smith is a college and scholarship coach who helps families navigate the path after high school. She facilitates in-person and online group workshops, and provides one-on-one coaching on a variety of topics. Sally can help families gain an understanding of the college selection, application, and decision process; pinpoint scholarship opportunities; write effective college admission and scholarship essays; decipher the FAFSA and CSS Profile; gather stellar letters of recommendation; and develop strategies for college entrance testing and test preparation. To learn more about the services she provides and to schedule a free 30-minute consultation, visit

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