Chicago Data Stories: Aarti Dhupelia

Here at the To&Through Project, we work to make data accessible with an aim to inspire action. As a result, we’ve often had the honor of being privy to our colleagues’ personal reflections on the data we share, and their varying perspectives shape the way we think about this work.

Below, we share Aarti Dhupelia’s reflections on one of our Data Insights — which summarize years of research from the UChicago Consortium and To&Through Project — and her pushes for thinking about how students’ voices can inform our collective work to improve the system.

The fact that stopping out of college is more common than remaining continuously enrolled in college until completion tells us two things that colleges need to do: (1) Dig deeper on what drives student persistence and more intentionally set up the systems and supports that facilitate persistence, and (2) Systematically reach out to students who have stopped out to encourage their return to college.

In the Undergraduate College at National Louis University (NLU), for example, we executed focused outreach and this year welcomed back more than 100 students who had stopped out. We found that, often, students stopped out because they had a financial hold, in which case emergency scholarships or loans could assist them to return. Or, students often stated they need to work more hours at their job and spend less time in school to make ends meet, and in these cases, we have found there might be opportunities to help students stay enrolled part-time to better balance school and work, and/or find on-campus jobs that may fit better with their class schedule. Some students have said a daytime schedule doesn’t work for them, which leads us to look at whether evening or online courses would help them persist.

Other students need help with basic needs including food and housing, in which case we connect them to these wraparound resources. Still, at times it may make sense for a student to stop out for myriad personal reasons — in such situations, we prioritize staying regularly in contact with students so that they know we are here to help and welcome them back when they are ready to re-enroll.

Beyond the walls of NLU, there is a great deal of discussion and research nationwide about why students leave college, but it would be interesting to see more research about why students stay, similar to this Gallup-Purdue Index study. Such research can help colleges focus their efforts rather than take a “kitchen sink” approach to the supports and experiences they offer students.

—Aarti Dhupelia, Vice President for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the Undergraduate College at National Louis University

Check out more of the To&Through Project’s Data Insights and tell us about your own reflections.

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The To&Through Project

The To&Through Project

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The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.