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Tamra Ortgies-Young and Crystal Garrett, Georgia Perimeter College

Tamra Ortgies-Young.jpgCrystal Garrett.jpgAcademic advising professionals serve students from a variety of vantage points.  We work collectively to identify and mitigate barriers to student success.  Often a problem that causes difficulties in the classroom may show up in personal counseling sessions or present in advising checkpoints.  One such challenge that universally affects retention and graduation rates is unplanned pregnancy in college students. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 61% of women who have children after enrolling in community college do not complete their education.  Eighty-one percent of students also report that having an unplanned pregnancy during college makes it harder to accomplish their goals (The National Campaign, 2014). Therefore, academic institutions endeavor to provide student support to improve chances of college success by building connections through academic advising, first-year seminars, student organizations, and faculty initiatives, such as service-learning projects.  Indeed, many of the same members of the college community are involved in one or more of these important high-impact practices to improve student retention and graduation rates.

Faculty and staff alike can attest that the negative effects of unplanned pregnancy on student retention can be found in all types of academic institutions. However, the impact seems to be greater at two-year colleges due to difficult social conditions in the communities served by such institutions.  Academic advisors at access institutions whose missions, in part, are to break the cycle of poverty, often encounter the root cause of social problems, such as unplanned pregnancy, in their student populations.  The key to breaking the cycle and providing better chances of positive outcomes is to design institution-appropriate interventions that effect change. Several strategies can contribute to the goal of improving student retention and graduation rates.  The authors will share a few options for academic advisors who wish to address this pressing issue affecting college completion.

Form a partnership with a non-profit agency to achieve common goals.  The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to improve the lives and prospects of children and their families, has targeted college campuses as a focus of educational programming and partnerships to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancy (The National Campaign, 2014).  One such partnership included a consortium of six community colleges in conjunction with the American Association of Community Colleges.  Faculty in schools, including Georgia Perimeter College and Mesa Community College, designed service-learning components to be utilized in course design using The National Campaign’s online materials.  In addition, the National Campaign created three free online learning modules that can be assigned to students across the spectrum of high-impact support programs, including by academic advisors and facilitators of first-year seminars. The National Campaign provides educational materials that can be disseminated by academic advising offices and student organizations and through faculty-led service-learning initiatives.

Foster a positive relationship to build student trust. Faculty and full-time academic advisors have much to cover in time-limited advising sessions, but more and more they are addressing the possible barriers to student success, even when this means venturing into the personal realm.  While this first instance of offering materials on birth control options or assigning online educational modules on the topics of reproductive health and building positive relationships may feel a bit out of the comfort zone, the reality is many students will welcome the information as a sign that their advisor cares about their college success.  The positive connection between advisor and student then often spawns a relationship that will enhance the chances that the partnership will endure until graduation or transfer.

Some students might chafe at an assignment or a verbal approach by an academic advisor on topic of pregnancy prevention.  Evidence garnered after six consecutive semesters of intervention at one institution suggests that they are few and far between.  One illustrative story is the case of a non-traditional married student with children who at first did not warm to a service-learning peer education project. Eventually, not only did “Ann” embrace the social media project to debunk myths about contraception and pregnancy, but she also became a class leader, presented a paper on her project at an honors conference, joined a peer advising club that addressed unplanned pregnancy, and started a second student club for students with children to support and educate her peers after she learned that unplanned pregnancy can be a serial event for single students without adequate information.  “Ann” could have simply completed the online modules and contributed to the class project, but the cause became personal and that experience was transformational. Student development enthusiasts will also note the leadership opportunities that may present when these interventions are employed.

Incorporate college-wide programs that raise awareness and provide resources to reduce unplanned pregnancies. Another way to raise awareness and provide information on the effects of unplanned pregnancy is for faculty members, academic advisors, and/or student organizations to hold workshops and panels, create service-learning projects, and utilize websites and technology to educate students on the effects of unplanned pregnancy on college completion (The National Campaign, 2014). For example, the college can invite speakers to talk to students about pregnancy prevention, faculty can develop service learning projects that allow students to work with pregnant teens, and academic advisors can give students access to websites and mobile apps that promote sexual health and provide users with strategies to prevent pregnancy (Brinkley, Martin, Richman & Webb, 2014). Collaboration between interested faculty, student life personnel, advising centers and student organizations can boost the reach of such initiatives through the use of social media, institutional communication platforms and joint programming (The National Campaign, 2014).

Furthermore, students can play an important role in bringing awareness to this issue. They can join peer-advising clubs or they can participate in student organizations that provide information on pregnancy prevention. Students tend be more receptive to a message from other students.  Therefore, peer-to-peer engagement is pivotal in the promotion of student success and retention.

Additional Benefits for Students and Institutions of Unplanned Pregnancy Prevention

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, addressing this social issue can also positively impact related problems including poverty, child abuse, and child health issues, as well as school drop-out rates and poor work-place preparation (The National Campaign, 2014). These disturbing outcomes beyond college completion also merit our attention.  By embracing these tools to arrest the incidence of unplanned pregnancy in our student populations, academic advisors and faculty facilitators can make a contribution to root causes of social problems that later present in student populations.

A Call to Action

A recent study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that teen birth rates declined 10% in 2013 and 57% since 1991.  While this is good news for the nation, the challenge for students at all types of institutions is still too high when unplanned pregnancy becomes an added barrier to college success (Curtin, Hamilton, Martin, & Osterman, 2013). Faculty members and academic advisors can do more to assist female students and their partners to achieve their college and career goals.  What’s more, this intervention aligns with the core values as academic advisors to be responsible to the diverse student populations that we advise and to employ a holistic approach that includes referral to a network of resources for student benefit (NACADA, 2005). The strategies suggested here have a proven track record of student engagement.  Academic advisors across the institution may wish to identify what intervention(s) would be comfortable to implement as well as which combinations of strategies and partnerships have the best chance of success at their unique institutions. The collective goal of academic advising is student success. All avenues to boost student success including unplanned pregnancy prevention should be addressed.

Tamra Ortgies-Young
Georgia Perimeter College
[email protected]

Crystal Garrett
Georgia Perimeter College
[email protected]


Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College: Online Lessons-Faculty Page: http://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/online-lessons-faculty-page


Brinkley, J., Martin J. R., Richman, A & Webb, M. (2014).  Sexual behavior and interest in using a sexual health mobile app to help improve and manage college students' sexual health. Sex Education, 14, 310-322. doi:10.1080/14681811.2014.889604.

Curtin, S., Hamilton, B, Martin, J., & Osterman, M. (2013). Births: Preliminary data for 2013. (National Vital Statistics Reports 63.2). Washington, DC: Retrieved from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_02.pdf

NACADA. (2005). NACADA statement of core values of academic advising.  The NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources.  Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Core-values-of-academic-advising.aspx

Prentice, M., Storin, C. & Robinson, G. (2012). Make it personal: How pregnancy prevention and planning help students complete college. Washington, DC: American Association of Community College Report Retrieved from http://www.aacc.nche.edu

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2014). Retrieved from http://thenationalcampaign.org/why-it-matters


Cite this article using APA style as: Ortgies-Young, T., & Garrett, C. (2014, December). Unplanned pregnancy prevention: An academic advising curriculum to enhance student retention and college completion. Academic Advising Today, 37(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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