As universities across the country try to turn things around Enrollment rates have fallen, Many specifically target one group: 36 million adults leaving college No degree.

During the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has fallen by about 8 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This makes it all the more urgent to bring these students back.

Higher education leaders, politicians and educational nonprofits are all struggling to find the best way to do this. But how can they make sure that students face the obstacles better this time around?

Most of them are adult learners—students over the age of 25—who have different needs than traditional college students. Colleges have a hard time finding them. They may be struggling with financial and needs at home, such as childcare. Some people may feel like they don’t belong in college at all.

One of the groups trying to help with this is InsideTrack, a nonprofit student tutoring organization that works with universities.

Throughout 2021, the nonprofit and its 25 partner colleges and universities reached out to 27,000 dropouts, eventually re-enrolling 3,000 of those students for the summer and fall semesters of 2021—nearly three-quarters of whom came from the service Underrepresented or underrepresented backgrounds. College leaders say the results are promising.

Several states have begun or expanded similar re-enrollment efforts, primarily for adult learners. While it’s early days for these efforts, an important theme is that these students often need support while in college — not just financial aid and readmission help.

“Most, if not all states have some type of college achievement goal, and I’m not sure anyone can achieve that,” said Steve Ast, senior vice president for partner success at InsideTrack Say. “Every state is asking itself, ‘What do we need to do to get more degrees or some type of certification?’ A natural place to start is those who are already somewhere on this path.”

But Astor says outreach alone is not enough. “The idea of ​​needing support throughout a student’s journey, not just getting them back to that door,” he said.

wraparound service

Finding adult learners, re-enrolling them, and retaining them takes time. Many agencies don’t have enough bandwidth to do it on their own, and it’s one of the huge gaps that InsideTrack hopes to help fill, said Angela Jaramillo, its director of strategic partnerships.

Of the 25 colleges and universities that InsideTrack partnered with last year, eight are historically black colleges and universities and eight are community colleges, which tend to serve large numbers of low-income first-generation students.

Coaches in the organization, often with the help of campus staff, search databases to track names and contact information of former students, make calls, send texts and emails to see if they are interested in returning, and determine what obstacles exist in their way .

“We hear their stories, we acknowledge them,” Jaramillo said. “We want to understand what their barriers are right now.”

Sometimes it’s just an unpaid fee, or the agency needs to be contacted to restart the registration process. In other cases, there are significant financial barriers or family responsibilities that require additional support. Regardless, Jaramillo said, coaches can help students navigate the registration process, identify their goals, and guide them to campus resources like financial aid and child care that can contribute to long-term success.

While financial aid and scholarship programs can be important tools in helping students, tutoring helps them cross the finish line, Ast said.

“Coaching is almost like insurance. You’re providing coaching to help ensure that the investments you make will be the most effective and impactful,” he said. “They’re going to get in, they’re going to stay, they’re going to take the right course, and they’re going to be on a career path that’s right for them.”

different needs

Many adult learners attend community colleges, the higher education sector hardest hit Due to declining enrollment in the pandemic era.

InsideTrack partnered with North Carolina’s John M. Belk Endowment on a pilot program to help five North Carolina community colleges identify and support the state’s adult learning population.

Adult students “have very different needs than high school students. They lead fulfilling lives,” said MC Belk Pilon, president of the foundation and chair of the board. “They didn’t fail because they couldn’t do the job. They fell because the system wasn’t built for them, and their lives were really fulfilling, maybe they didn’t have the flexibility.”

One of the participating institutions is Pitt Community College, which has struggled with declining enrollment for the past two years. The college enrolled approximately 8,200 students in 2019. Of the 590 adult learners who dropped out in the past few years, 262 ended up enrolling in the fall program after being contacted by InsideTrack.

When campus leaders realized they were treating adult learners the same as high school graduates, the college opened a center designed to meet the needs of nontraditional students. Lawrence L. Rouse, dean of the college, said the center helps connect students with transportation, child care, clothing, mental health services and other programs, including scholarships and additional funding. Adult learners can also fill out an admissions form where they can list their needs and discuss their plans with a counselor.

“We learn from our adult learning program experience every day, and we can’t treat everyone the same,” Rouse said. “It’s about fairness and we really need to give them what they need at the time. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re trying to find some answers.”

Mamie Voight, director and CEO of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said re-enrolling adult learners who dropped out is directly linked to promoting equity. Because students of color and low-income students have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they are more likely to drop out of college or drop out of college entirely in the past two years, Watt said.

The institute is currently working with about 200 colleges and universities to check students’ transcripts and help identify those who leave college before earning enough credits. The initiative, “Degrees When Due,” aims to increase degree attainment rates — increasing equity in the process.

“A lot of the reasons behind this are the deep inequalities within society, the deep inequalities in our higher education system, and the additional challenges that many of these students face in completing their certificates,” she said. “Focusing on re-engagement in this way is one way to address some of the inequities we see in higher education.”

hopeful officials

Some states have expanded statewide scholarship and financial aid programs for adult learners, such as Colorado’s Finish the program you started and Texas Retraining Support Fund Grant Program.

American Institute 67 “commitment” programs identified Tuition assistance is available for adult learners in the 2020-21 school year, but many students have additional requirements—such as requiring full-time enrollment or allowing only first-time college students.

The Texas grant program initially had strict requirements, offering aid only to adult learners who left college six months ago and enrolled in a “high-need” program. Even as the state relaxed those parameters, colleges have reportedly struggled to find enough eligible students. Texas Tribune.

In Colorado, approximately 650,000 students have a college education without a degree. Thirty-one colleges are participating in a state program that provides adult learners with financial aid and support services such as career planning, financial literacy and information about community resources. It started as a pilot program in Adams County and expanded in 2021 with the help of federal Covid relief funding from the state legislature.

The state’s goal is for 66 percent of residents to have a college degree. It’s too early to know how the plan is going, but Colorado officials are hopeful.

“This is really a support service that students need, so as we move forward with these programs, we want to make sure we have both,” said Cynthia N. Armendariz, senior director of the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Program. “Every agency has to provide financial support and full support.”