New Bipartisan Bill Aims to Improve College Completion through Evidence-Based Practices

Blog Post
March 26, 2024

Millions of students enroll in college every year, but many don’t graduate. Only 62 percent of those starting college in 2017 completed their programs within six years. And the rate is not equal across the board. For those at community colleges, only around 40 percent earn a credential. For Black and Hispanic students, the rate was 43 and 50 percent respectively. Completion matters because students are more likely to realize the benefits that higher education can bring only when they have a degree.

Many colleges lack the resources needed to implement proven practices that help their students stay in college and succeed. But a new legislation is about to change that. Last week Senators Heinrich (D-NM), Representatives Stansbury (D-NM) and Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR) introduced the Postsecondary Student Success Act (PSSA), a bipartisan effort to provide competitive grants for colleges to implement evidence-based practices that improve student retention and completion.

The bill serves to authorize the Postsecondary Student Success Grant (PSSG) program, created by Congress under the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) in 2022. So far, 15 colleges and universities have received the grants, which allow them to create, implement, or expand evidence-based practices that can help students, especially those who recently stopped out or are at risk of stopping out, navigate and complete their programs. The authorization of PSSG would mean sustained funding for the program for years to come, expanding access to effective proven retention and completion strategies to more students.

Under PSSA, all public institutions are eligible to receive the fund, including partnerships between a non-profit organization and an institution, and consortiums of many institutions. Similar to PSSG, colleges and universities that receive funding from the grant can implement direct student services to support retention and completion, targeting students with high needs, including low-income students, first generation students, caregiver students, students with disabilities, those who have stopped out, and justice-impacted students. Grantees can also provide career preparation services to help these students obtain employment after graduation.

What makes PSSA stand out from other institutional grant programs is the emphasis on the use and building of evidence. At least 20 percent of the fund is reserved for practices that have been shown to increase student retention and completion through rigorous evaluations. PSSA also requires grantees to evaluate the effectiveness of the practices that they implement to see whether these practices lead to intended outcomes for students who participate, and compare them to those who don’t.

College completion receives bipartisan support in Congress. In fiscal year (FY) 2023, Congress increased the funding level for PSSG, from $5 million in FY2022 to $45 million. Earlier this year, Representative Foxx (R-VA) also included PSSA language in her College Cost Reduction Act. And for FY 2024, even with expected funding cuts across the board, Congress still maintained the funding level for PSSG. The sustained support for the grant shows a tremendous interest from both parties in applying evidence-based practice to help students succeed.

Since the 1970s, education scholars have looked into why students drop out and what interventions could be helpful in improving their outcomes. But 50 years of knowledge alone is not enough. It also takes an investment of financial and administrative resources—and careful evaluation efforts—to effectively implement retention and completion practices. PSSA will do just this: With potential funding offered by this authorized program, more schools will be able to create, and more students will be able to access, evidence-based programs. The emphasis on evidence ensures taxpayers’ dollars are invested in effective practices that work for our students.

Read the full text of the bill here.