Colorado should rightfully be proud of the many accomplishments of its postsecondary system. Nonetheless, in spite of its recognition as one of the most highly educated states, Colorado ranks at or below average in student persistence and completion. Not enough of our students are completing in a timely manner, or at all, after enrolling.
Currently in Colorado, only about half of students who enroll in a public postsecondary institution complete within 150 percent time (within three years for a two-year degree or within six years for a four-year degree). Indeed, the pipeline of public education in Colorado has leaks throughout: Only about one-quarter of Colorado 9th graders graduate high school in four years, then immediately enroll in a postsecondary certificate or degree program in the fall and complete a postsecondary credential in 150 percent time.1
There are many indicators of future success for students along their education pipeline, beginning as early as third grade reading proficiency. In middle and high school, attendance, grades and exposure to college-level work are consistently viewed as indicators of future success. Once a student enters postsecondary education, indicators of likely on-time completion include completing credit-bearing gateway courses in English and math within the student’s first 30 credit hours and taking 15 credits per semester. We also know that for many college students, “other life factors” increasingly get in the way and can reduce a student’s likelihood of completing.
Already noted is the priority that the commission has placed in recent years on working with the state’s K-12 system and putting into place policies to ensure that K-12 guidelines and requirements align with postsecondary expectations. While work remains to be done, we believe our efforts in such areas as alignment of the CCHE’s admissions and developmental education policies with the State Board of Education’s graduation guidelines, concurrent enrollment, coordination with educatorpreparation programs and informing guaranteed transfer will help ensure the success of our students.
In many ways, time is the enemy to postsecondary student success: The longer a student takes to acquire the required credit hours, the less likely it is that he or she will complete. Conversely, evidence is strong that students who complete at least 15 credit hours per semester—dubbed the “15-to-finish” strategy and what researchers describe as high academic intensity—are far more likely to persist, successfully transfer and complete a college degree. For many students who must work or have other family obligations, increasing credit hours would be possible only with increased financial aid. This is a trade-off that will pay off for Colorado in the long run.