Helping community college students to graduate

8 Feb

Tamar Levin of the New York Times reported on the trend of community colleges offering four year degrees in the 2009 article, Community Colleges Challenge Hierarchy With 4-Year Degrees More people are switching careers several times during their working career and that means that they must be retrained. Many students cannot afford a traditional four year college either in terms of cost or time spent away from home. Community colleges have always offered these students educational opportunity. See, Robert Franco’s The Civic Role of Community Colleges: Preparing Students for the Work of Democracy

Community colleges were created to democratize both American higher education and the students who came through their open doors (Brint and Karabel 1989; Gleazer 1994). However, some observers have argued that community colleges have become overly focused on diverting students into low- and mid-level occupations and that they have not played a major role in transforming perpetuated structures of inequality. With a rapid growth trajectory, America’s 1,166 community colleges now serve increasingly diverse populations. Community college leaders need to recommit to three essential missions: developing strong transfer programs that provide students with equal educational opportunities; preparing students for twenty-first century careers; and preparing students for the work of democracy in the world’s dominant democracy. Service-learning is the leading pedagogy that community colleges can employ to achieve these missions and truly become civically engaged campuses in the communities they serve.

Daniel de Vise has a great article in the Washington Post, 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College which reports online information from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Going to a community college is one way to reduce the cost of college.

The Lumina Foundation provides the following statistics:

  • Forty-six percent are 25 or older, and 32 percent are at least 30 years old. The average age is 29.
  • Fifty-eight percent are women.
  • Twenty-nine percent have annual household incomes less than $20,000.
  • Eighty-five percent balance studies with full-time or part-time work. More than half (54 percent) have full-time jobs.
  • Thirty percent of those who work full time also attend classes full time (12 or more credit hours). Among students 30-39 years old, the rate climbs to 41 percent.
  • Minority students constitute 30 percent of community college enrollments nationally, with Latino students representing the fastest-growing racial/ethnic population.

Source: The American Association of Community Colleges, based on material in the National Profile of Community Colleges:Trends & Statistics, Phillippe & Patton, 2000.

Many of those attending community college will need a variety of assistance to be successful in their academic career.

Jennifer Gonzalez reports in the Education Week article, Multiyear Study of Community-College Practices Asks: What Helps Students Graduate?

The first of three reports, “A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success” was released last week. It draws attention to 13 strategies for increasing retention and graduation rates, including fast-tracking remedial education, providing students with experiential learning, and requiring students to attend orientation.

The strategies specified in the report are not new. In fact, many of them can be found at two-year colleges right now. But how well those strategies are working to help students stay in college and graduate is another matter. The report found peculiarities among responses on similar topics, suggesting a disconnect between institutions and students, while also raising questions about how committed institutions are to their own policies and programs.

For example, 74 percent of students said they were required to take academic-placement tests, but only 28 percent said they used materials or resources provided by the college to prepare for those tests. While 44 percent of participating colleges report offering some sort of test preparation, only 13 percent make test preparation mandatory, the report said.

Also, 42 percent of part-time students and 19 percent of full-time students work more than 30 hours per week. More than half care for dependents. But only 26 percent of entering students reported that a college staff member counseled them about how many courses to take while balancing commitments outside of class.

Colleges need to figure out a way to better align their programs and policies with the needs and realities of their students, Ms. McClenney says. The report found a sizable gap between the percentage of students who plan to graduate and those who actually do, suggesting that what colleges think works may not be helping retain and graduate students. In fact, fewer than half (45 percent) of entering community-college students actually graduate with either a certificate or associate degree within six years after enrolling at an institution, according to the report….

Requiring Success

This is the first time that the research organization has analyzed data from four surveys and combined the results into a multiyear project. The responses came from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, the Survey of Entering Student Engagement, the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, and the newly created Community College Institutional Survey….

A major stumbling block for community-college students is remedial education. Many students languish in those reading, writing, or math classes and eventually drop out, curtailing their transfer or graduation plans. The problem is especially acute among minorities and low-income students.

But the report says that among institutions that have accelerated or fast-tracked remedial courses, only 13 percent require students to enroll in those courses. That’s a missed opportunity, because earlier research suggests that students who take those intensive classes perform equally as well as, or better than, students in traditional remedial education.

The report found similar results regarding orientation services, which include providing students with information on navigating the library and finding support services such as academic and mental-health counseling. Previous research shows that participation in orientation leads to greater use of support services and improved retention of at-risk students, the report says. However, among colleges that offer orientation programs, only 38 percent report that they require it for all first-time students.

Ashley Marchand writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about strategies which can help community college students succeed.

In 6 Strategies Can Help Entering Community-College Students Succeed, Marchand reports:

The six benchmarks listed in the report offer staff members and administrators ideas about how to help more students stay in college and graduate or transfer. They are fostering “college readiness” programs for high-school students, connecting early with students, encouraging faculty and staff members to have high expectations for students, providing a clear academic path, engaging students in the learning process, and maintaining an academic and social-support network.

In the article, Community Colleges Address Financial Barriers to Success For Low-income Students which was published in the Sacramento Bee:

Of the close to 8 million credit students annually attending community colleges, 46% currently receive some form of financial aid (state, federal, or institutional). The additional benefits the students might access through BACC include a range of federal programs, such as those that provide health insurance, food, and child care. Such support services are especially critical for community college students, many of whom juggle work, studies, and family responsibilities.

Given the numbers of students attending community college and the population demographic, more must be done to help this students graduate.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

10 Responses to “Helping community college students to graduate”


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