New research shows six in ten Florida community-college students drop out before they finish - even with good grades and only a few credits shy of graduation.
University of Florida researchers surveyed 27,000 former community-college students in the state, and found tuition and fees, living expenses, and no longer being eligible for financial aid were the top reasons for not finishing.
Madeline Pumariega is president of Miami Dade College, with the largest undergraduate enrollment of any college in the country.
She said about 85% of her students also work, and have to balance jobs and family with their studies. So, her school offers a number of ways to boost retention.
"Via stipends and other financial aid, so that maybe they don't have to work while they study," said Pumariega, "and they can focus their efforts to be a full-time student. We know if you're full time, you tend to complete your degree faster."
Nationally, about 10% of all students who leave college without a degree are only a few credits shy of graduation.
Pumariega said in Florida, those with 12 or fewer credit hours remaining can apply for the "Last Mile Scholarship," a waiver program to help them complete their first associate or baccalaureate degree.
Pumariega is no stranger to the life of a community college student. She was a student athlete at Miami Dade College, and is now the first female president appointed to lead the institution.
"We know that sometimes, our students are doing their homework at 10:00 PM or at 1:00 AM, not necessarily at noon or after class," said Pumariega. "So, we've partnered up with different learning specialists to be able to offer those services to students in a virtual environment."
In the study, 17% of former students said a health emergency contributed to their early exit. That increased to more than 20% for those over 50.
The study recommends schools do more to provide students with better information and advising, as well as targeted financial assistance.