Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2013—Three years ago, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) launched a groundbreaking effort called, ‘Project Win-Win,’ which recruited 61 associate’s degree-granting institutions in nine states—Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin—to locate former students, no longer enrolled anywhere and never awarded a degree, whose records indicated that they were within striking distance of qualifying for associate’s degrees, and to award those degrees retroactively. Today, at the project’s conclusion, IHEP’s Searching for Our Lost Associate’s Degrees: Project Win-Win at the Finish Line report reveals that with demand growing for a more educated U.S. workforce, the universe of former community college students who already have started down the road to an associate’s degree represents a population ripe for return and completion.
Utilizing student-level data mining as part of its core sequence of activities, nearly all Project Win-Win institutions identified almost 130,000 students in the “universe of interest”—determined by a set of parameters established by each participating school—and completed degree audits for the just about 42,000 students remaining after removing those who reenrolled or earned degrees elsewhere. Project Win-Win achievements include:
- More than 6,700 students emerged eligible for the retroactive award of the associate’s degree.
- More than 4,500 students have received degrees to date through Project Win-Win’s efforts.
- Out of more than 20,000 students identified with fewer than 12 credits to completion, almost 1,700 students have returned to college and another 400 have signaled their intent to return.
“Project Win-Win has been a win for thousands of students earning degrees and a win for the participating institutions. Projecting the effort’s numbers across U.S. public community colleges and four-year colleges that award associate’s degrees suggests a roughly 15 percent increase in the number of associate’s degrees awarded nationally,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. “This percentage is a considerable down payment on our national goal to significantly increase postsecondary degree attainment in the United States.”
Searching for Our Lost Associate’s Degrees shares the development, processes, and lessons of Project Win-Win in hopes that this experience can help inform other efforts to boost college attainment. For example, Project Win-Win institutions learned how to better serve their current students. They delved into their own data systems, checking how well their student record data matched with those of the state and the National Student Clearinghouse. Equally important, however, the report exposes the pitfalls institutions grappled with to execute Project Win-Win in a timely manner, including how to locate students, define college-level mathematics, account for course substitutions in degree audits, appraise residency and recency, and handle state and local bureaucracies.
As a result, Searching for Our Lost Associate’s Degrees offers several recommendations for improving future iterations of Project Win-Win . They include:
- Automatically award earned degrees. Shift from opt-in to opt-out award policies to increase the number of associate’s degree awards.
- Remove non-academic barriers. Cut any institutional “red tape” that might stand in the way of awarding degrees from a swimming requirement, to parking tickets, library fines, and fees for graduation, apart from tuition.
- Rethink residency and recency. In an age of student mobility, institutions seeking to help former students should work with states to find ways to keep residency and recency requirements from becoming barriers to college completion.
- Make degree audits standard practice. Use degree audits to furnish current students with helpful information on transfer credits, repeated courses, credit duplication, and internships, as well as residency and recency requirements.
- Set triggers for degree audits. Have all current students who are candidates for any associate’s degree receive, review, and sign off on a degree audit at 45 credits to improve the response of both institutions and students.
- Inform students early of graduation deadlines. Automate the graduation process for current students, with notifications three to four months ahead of deadlines—and repeat one month before the door closes—to boost the odds of degree completion.
Project Win-Win has been a partnership of IHEP and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, with $1.3 million in support from Lumina Foundation and, for Michigan, from the Kresge Foundation. The project expanded a pilot program sponsored by The Education Trust in the fall and spring terms of 2009. Other institutions joined the project in waves through fall of 2011.
IHEP Senior Associate Clifford Adelman designed and directed Project Win-Win, building upon his extensive experience in analyzing the group of students who has earned 60 or more credits but had not earned a degree in national longitudinal data sets.
For more information about Project Win-Win or to download a free copy of Searching for Our Lost Associate’s Degrees: Project Win-Win at the Finish Line, visit IHEP’s website at www.ihep.org.