A Policy and Practice Scan of Strategies to Engage and Support Returning Students
Each year, thousands of college students in the United States stop out, or pause, their studies. Although some of these students return, others never go back to complete their credential or degree. These students tend to be students of color, students who have dependents, or students who face unmet financial needs or other hardships. While a number of postsecondary initiatives focus on re-enrolling these students and supporting them once they are back, there is little systematic documentation detailing these efforts or rigorous research demonstrating their efficacy.
To address this research gap, members of the College Completion Network’s Lead team, Accelerated Pathways team, and Completion Grants team conducted a policy and practice scan to increase the field’s understanding of the types of strategies institutions of higher education use to recruit returning students and support their achievement once they have re-enrolled. The study team conducted focus groups with college leaders selected from three sets of college samples: a nationally representative sample; a purposive sample of colleges that implement practices supportive of returning students; and a purposive sample of colleges that implement innovative and evidence-based strategies to support student success.
The research team used general qualitative inquiry to investigate the policies and practices the college administrators used to recruit, re-enroll, and engage returning students, as well as the evidence supporting those efforts. The team then identified overarching lessons for practitioners that detail promising strategies that should be evaluated more rigorously to inform future practice.
Study period: 2021–22
This project is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305H170085 to American Institutes for Research (AIR).