Students “Don’t Do Optional”…Or Do They?

Today’s conventional wisdom (driven by research on student success and completion) has community colleges believing that “students don’t do optional.” This belief has perpetuated many of us to focus on two primary tactics to improve college completion: (1) mandate and (2) automate.


  • Orientation
  • Student Success Course
  • Meeting with an advisor
  • Enrollment in a “learning community”
  • Supplemental instruction
  • Tutoring
  • Non-course Based Options (NCBOs) tied to developmental courses


  • Applications for graduation
  • Degree audits
  • Reverse transfer
  • Emails targeted at prospective students
  • Emails targeted for current students (First time in College, 15-hours, 45-hours, etc.)
  • Early alerts

The above examples of mandates and automation were created with the best of intentions behind them. Sometimes these steps were even made with fear and trepidation about what the impact on enrollment would be. Colleges that implemented these steps realized they themselves don’t do optional.

In addition to the mandate and automate tactics, providing more curriculum structure and restriction of choice is the next chapter of the Completion Agenda. Collectively referred to as “pathways,” there is much momentum on this front. Pathways doesn’t mean students won’t have ANY choice, but the impact of their choices will be more transparent for them.

Colleges absolutely have a moral obligation and a legal responsibility to create and nurture a place for learning that has our students’ best interests at heart.

  • Policies should be relevant and meaningful.
  • Processes should be straightforward and purpose driven.
  • Pathways to completion should be clearly mapped — just like a route on a map to your destination.


Students don’t do optional?

Compulsory education in the United States ends with high school.

Students “did optional” once.

They choose to attend college.

College is optional.

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