College Completion Challenge Grant Initiative
June 21, 1999
Honorable Albert Gore, Jr.
President of the Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Mr. President:
I am pleased to submit for your consideration the "College Completion Challenge Grant Act of 1999," a legislative proposal that would help institutions of higher education expand their efforts to increase the rate at which low-income and other at-risk students complete baccalaureate degree programs.
Students from low-income families are significantly more likely to leave a 4-year institution of higher education without a baccalaureate degree than are students from families with higher incomes. Only 44 percent of students from low-income families who were enrolled full time during their first year of college completed a baccalaureate degree within five years. This completion rate is 24 percentage points lower than the 68 percent completion rate among students from upper-income families.
In addition to economic disadvantage, a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, Stopouts or Stayouts? Undergraduates Who Leave College in Their First Year, concludes that there are a number of factors significantly associated with students dropping out of a four-year college or university. These factors include: having a low to failing cumulative grade point average (under 2.0); delaying entry into postsecondary education after graduating from high school; being less engaged with their academic program; working full time while enrolled; and being a first-generation college student. This legislative proposal would allow institutions of higher education to help mitigate those factors most significantly associated with the failure to complete baccalaureate degree programs.
Specifically, there are three different forms of services or assistance that an institution could provide under the proposed new College Completion Challenge Grant (CCCG) program. An institution could implement an intensive summer program, develop strong student support services, provide direct grant aid to students, or a combination of these activities. Intensive summer programs could be provided only if the institution demonstrates in its application that it has a strong commitment to student retention through additional activities. Support services under the proposed new program could include peer tutoring, mentor programs, activities to assist students currently enrolled in a 2-year institution to secure admission and financial assistance in a 4-year program of postsecondary education, activities to assist students in securing admission and financial assistance for graduate and professional programs, assistance in course selection, and cultural events. If an institution chose to provide grants to students under the proposed new College Completion Challenge Grant Program, it would be required to do so in combination with at least one of the other two authorized activities, and those grants would have to meet certain minimum amounts and supplement other Federal grant assistance, such as Federal Pell Grants.
While each institution would determine which combination of services and assistance to offer for its at-risk students, the particular services and assistance that would be available under this proposal are designed to address the factors most significantly associated with the failure to complete baccalaureate degree programs. Support services and intensive summer programs would help to address the factors of the low grade point average, lower engagement with the academic program, and first-generation college student status. Intensive summer programs offered for students entering their first year of postsecondary education would also help prevent students from delaying their entry into college. Finally, a substantial increase in grant aid would reduce some students' need to work full time while enrolled, and address some of the concerns of a first generation college student regarding student loan debt burden and the availability of adequate financial aid.
Since low-income and at-risk students are most likely to leave a program of postsecondary education during the first two years, an institution would generally be required to focus services and assistance on students in their first two years of postsecondary education. Although this program would require institutions to target students in their first two years of postsecondary education, an institution could serve students who have completed their first two years if it could demonstrate in its application, to the satisfaction of the Secretary, that these students are at high risk of dropping out, and it will first meet the needs of all its eligible first- and second-year students for services under the proposed new CCCG program.
The proposed new CCCG program would help to eliminate the discrepancy that currently exists in baccalaureate degree attainment rates between students of low- and high-income families by supporting the specific activities that research has shown to improve student retention for students at risk of leaving a 4-year institution without a baccalaureate degree. It would build on the successes of TRIO's Student Support Services Program under section 402D of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and student financial assistance programs by combining selected elements of each and narrowly focusing that combination of services and assistance on at-risk students in the early years of postsecondary education. It would also build on the successes of the participating institutions, requiring institutions to demonstrate a prior successful commitment to helping low-income and other at-risk students stay in school until they complete their baccalaureate degrees.
I urge the speedy enactment of the "College Completion Challenge Grant Act of 1999" by Congress. It would help to ensure that all Americans not only have access to postsecondary education, but also the support necessary to ensure that they complete that education and receive their degrees.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this proposal to the Congress and that its adoption would be in accord with the program of the President.
Richard W. Riley