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New Great Lakes Grant Opportunity Invites Applicants to Address Barriers Preventing Near-Completers from Earning Degrees

Interventions Will Help Close Equity Gaps in Graduation Rates for High-Demand Career Fields

—When it comes to promoting student success, much attention from colleges and universities is rightly focused on students early in their academic careers. Yet students who are within striking distance of graduation also are at risk of dropping courses, withdrawing from academic programs, and stopping out. Students approaching the finish line can fall short for a variety of reasons: increasing textbook and supply costs, class scheduling conflicts, maxing out on their financial aid, and other life challenges.

Departure can negatively affect all students, but it has an acute impact on low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students who have the most to gain from postsecondary education but are least likely to complete it. The issue is compounded when students abandon academic programs that lead to high-demand careers. Students lose out on the credentials needed for good jobs waiting to be filled, and employers and the economy take a loss when there aren't enough educated workers to meet the need.

"Equally troubling is that students who stop out near the end of their programs often have amassed a degree's worth of student loan debt. Without the earning power a credential or degree can provide, they often struggle to repay what they owe," said Richard D. George, President and Chief Executive Officer of Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates. "Through this grant, we hope to learn what is needed to help more at-risk students complete their degrees and protect the investment they've made in their futures."

With its new College Completion Grant opportunity, Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation seeks to help colleges make a measurable impact on retention and completion rates of underserved students pursuing degrees and credentials that lead to high-demand jobs. This grant emphasizes interventions for students who are near completion but at risk of leaving college, rather than efforts to reclaim students who have already stopped out.

Applicants are encouraged to examine their campus data for disparities in program and degree completion by underserved student populations, identify root causes of non-completion (e.g. institutional, academic, financial, personal), and then propose a set of interventions to help remove barriers that prevent these students from completing.

"We believe there is a direct correlation between equity gaps in college completion and a lack of diversity in high-demand career fields," said Amy Kerwin, Vice President – Community Investments at Great Lakes. "Our new grant provides colleges the opportunity to make a difference for their students and the current labor market."

To begin closing equity gaps on campus and in the community, colleges and universities will focus on:

  1. academic programs that produce graduates for high-demand career fields, as determined by local, regional or national labor market needs,
  2. programs that have a sizeable completion gap between underserved students and the rest of the student population, and
  3. students who have completed 75 percent or more of all program requirements but are at risk of dropping out.

Visit to apply for a College Completion Grant by June 30, 2016. Two-year and four-year nonprofit colleges and universities in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin are eligible to apply for grants of up to $200,000. Funding will support the planning, launch and implementation of interventions over a two-and-a-half year period, from January 2, 2017 through July 1, 2019.

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