Colleges coach students to stay in academic game

Russell Shepard, a wide receiver at Louisiana State University, works with tutors to make sure he graduates from college.

Ask any high school kid. Few things are as stressful as trying to get into college. And staying in can be equally challenging.

Only 42 percent of American college students actually graduate. On Tuesday, Vice President Biden announced $20 million in grants to help states improve that number.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports some colleges are tackling the problem head on.

Russell Shepard, a wide receiver at Louisiana State University, answers to about a dozen coaches on the field. Off the field, his academic coaching staff is even larger.

"The tutoring appointments, the learning specialist, the strategy tutors we have," says Shepard, "they keep us on task."

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But many LSU students steer off course. Only 59 percent make it all the way to the goal line and graduate.

Kendall Loftkus graduated high school with honors.

But, the Baton Rouge native says, by the end of her freshman year, "I just felt like I wasn't doing good, I just...I kind of gave up."

Loftkus finds it difficult to admit that she gave up.

"I feel like I let my parents and myself down," she says, tears rolling down her face.

"For an institution like that to only get six out of 10 of them through is insane," says Kati Haycock.

Haycock heads up The Education Trust, a research organization that tracks college graduation rates closely.

"They assume their responsibility ends at letting students in," says Haycock. "If students figure out what to do, they'll succeed. And if they don't, they don't."

LSU is hardly alone. Graduation rates are equally low at hundreds of other well known schools including schools in The Pacific Ten, The Southeastern Conference and The Big 12.

Dr. Saundra McGuire calls it a crisis.

McGuire is a vice chancellor in charge of academics at LSU. She says kids are dropping out for financial and personal reasons, but that there's also a bigger problem.

"They don't have study skills, learning strategies, typically, and unfortunately so many of them give up when they encounter difficulty," says McGuire.

"Institutions that really succeed track what's happening to their students in the first week, in the first month. When their attendance falls off, or when their homework doesn't get turned in," says Haycock. "They act aggressively in that moment."

The University of Maryland used that approach to significantly raise its graduation rate over the last decade from 60 percent 82 percent with smaller classes, mandatory tutors and courses tailored to their students' needs.

"Our job is to provide students with degrees," says Lisa Kiley, assistant dean, undergraduate studies, University of Maryland. "It's not to weed out those we don't think are capable of doing it."

It's the kind of help Russell Shepard received as a football player at LSU.

"My mom told me don't come back without a degree," said Shepard. "You can come back here without playing football. But don't come back without that degree."

As for Kendall Loftkus, she's started over, taking classes at a local community college.

Loftkus worries about not getting a college degree.

"Most jobs now -- even people with a bachelor's degree, can't even get a job," says Loftkus. "And so it's kind of hard."

She's trying to keep the promise she made to her mother, that one day, she will earn that degree.

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    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York City, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.