School officials: Pandemic took a toll on underrepresented student populations

Clackamas Community College has found that students from underrepresented populations are more likely to drop out of college before earning a degree or certificate. This is particularly true of students enrolled during the pandemic that stopped attending CCC.

A large body of research has shown that additional one-on-one support can help these students persist and succeed. PMG FILE PHOTO - Clackamas Community College has campuses in Wilsonville, Oregon City and Milwaukie.

To aid in this effort, Clackamas Community College was awarded a three-year grant totaling $391,931 from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission's Reengagement and Retention Initiative. This funding will expand the college's existing retention efforts, including personalized attention and connections, which are key to students staying enrolled and completing their goals.

The grant specifically prioritizes connecting with students who were enrolled between March of 2020 and now but stopped attending CCC.

The grant will fund three areas:

A part-time position to help students who are low socioeconomic status, first-generation and/or students of color, and who are degree- and certificate-seeking but stopped attending CCC just prior to and/or during the pandemic.

A part-time position to help students who were enrolled and/or attended GED/Adult High School Diploma programs or the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. This position will also provide outreach to prospective students who need assistance with getting started in these programs.

Additional resources and supplies that eliminate the financial burden of attendance (e.g., transportation, child care, laptops, mobile hotspots, eyeglasses, testing fees, course fee waivers, textbooks, calculators and other supplies/materials needed for coursework).

From winter term to spring term in 2020, 3,667 CCC applicants did not enroll, enrolled but dropped out, or did not complete spring term. This project will focus on those students who left and are considered underrepresented students.

"Students who are assigned to someone who can respond to their questions and concerns and connect them to valuable resources, are more likely to enroll, stay enrolled and complete their educational goals," said Tara Sprehe, CCC's dean of academic connections. "These positions can monitor students' progress and lead them to the resources they need. It is difficult to learn and study when you are hungry or don't have a roof over your head."

Return on investment

The average cost per student who meets their goals for this initiative will be $2,547. For every dollar of support provided to CCC students, taxpayers will see a cumulative return of $1.60 over the course of the students' working careers (in the form of higher tax receipts and avoided costs).

The average annual internal rate of return for taxpayers is 5.2%, which compares favorably to other long-term investments in the public and private sectors. It is estimated that this project will provide, at minimum, a return on investment to taxpayers of $1,528 for each student who meets their goals for a total of $259,843.

Students will also see significant personal rates of return and stability by furthering their education. Estimated annual earnings for students with a GED or high school diploma are $40,612 and $48,776 for students with an associate degree or higher. As their education levels rise, the rate of unemployment decreases. As of June, 12% of people with less than a high school diploma are unemployed, as compared to 9% who have a high school diploma, 8% who have some college, and 7% who have an associate's degree.

For more information about Clackamas Community College, visit here.

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