CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The leaders of West Virginia's institutes of higher education believe colleges need to shift attention from recruiting students to ensuring that they graduate.
James Skidmore, head of the Council for Community and Technical College Education, and Paul Hill, chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, told lawmakers Monday that colleges need to do a better job of ensuring their students earn degrees.
"Historically, the systems here in the state have been driving 'get students into college.' Encourage them to go, write incentives for them to go - access. Now the focus is on completion," Hill said after the meeting.
That push, along with the 2008 recession, resulted in higher enrollment numbers for most colleges and universities. Enrollment in community and technical colleges has increased more than 21 percent since then while four-year colleges have seen nearly 5 percent growth.
Keeping those students in college has proven difficult: 75 percent of first-time freshmen returned to a four-year college in 2011, according to a different commission report. Fewer than half of all students at these schools earn a degree within six years, the report states.
The statistics are worse for two-year colleges. Between the 10 community and technical colleges in the state, fewer than 28 percent of students earn an associate degree or certificate within six years of entering school. Typically it takes two years to complete these programs.
About 44 percent of all students returned to school in 2011, the report states.
Keeping students in a community and technical college through graduation is particularly difficult because many students aren't interested in a degree when they enroll, Skidmore said.
"Because they're initially coming for, maybe just to get a course or two," Skidmore said. "But if you can get them to see the advantages of having a college degree if they don't have one, then they're already on your campus. Believe me, they're a lot easier to recruit when they're already there than when you're out here trying to find them and bring them in."
Hill and Skidmore believe a lack of preparedness is a large factor in students not completing degrees.
Students who are not ready for college-level work must take remedial courses. In 2011, more than 65 percent of students entering two-year colleges in West Virginia needed such courses. More than 20 percent of students entering four-year colleges needed them.
Nationally, fewer than 10 percent of students at two-year colleges who need a remedial course graduate within three years, according to the same commission report. A little more than 35 percent of students in four-year institutions who need remedial courses graduate within six years.