Promising Practices
Past initiative — Conducted September 1, 2011 - August 31, 2014

Promising Practices for Promoting Community College Student Success

Community colleges across the country are rising to the challenge of improving student success and college completion. As they grapple with that challenge, they quite naturally raise questions about what exactly they should be doing. What is known about effective educational practice? What makes a practice effective? And how do we bring effective practice to scale, turning small accomplishments into widespread improvement?

To help colleges answer these questions, the Center has launched a new project focused on Identifying and Promoting High-Impact Educational Practices in Community Colleges. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, the Center will conduct data analysis, hold focus groups with students and faculty members, and continue review of work underway in community colleges. This work will contribute significant new knowledge about promising practices and how they can promote student persistence and completion in community colleges.

To begin, the Center has identified 13 promising practices in community colleges—practices for which there is emerging evidence of success: from the extant research and from multiple colleges with multiple semesters of data showing improvement on an array of metrics, such as retention and course completion. Those practices are briefly described below.

Material is adapted from the Center's 2012 national report, A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success.

Assessment and Placement

Completing developmental education requirements early is related to higher overall achievement, and students can't complete if they don't enroll. Research suggests that students who take developmental education courses during their first term are more likely to complete their developmental sequence than are students who do not attempt any developmental courses during their first term.*

Making sure that students take the right classes is a multistep process. Colleges should create opportunities for students to participate in review or brush-up experiences before placement tests to minimize the amount of remediation students need. Then, after students have been assessed, students who need remediation should be placed into developmental pathways where they will have a chance to succeed rather than multiple opportunities to fail.

* Weissman, J., Silk, E., & Bulakowski, C. (1997). Assessing developmental education policies. Research in Higher Education 38(2), 187-200.


Orientation can be a single two-hour session that helps students find their way around campus, explains registration, and mentions support services. It also can be incorporated into a full-semester program, such as a student success course. Or it can be anything in between. Typically, however, an orientation is an experience that helps students know what they most need to know before classes begin.

Research shows that orientation is one component of a successful remediation program for at risk students.* Those who participate in orientation have higher rates of persistence than their non-participant peers.**

*Boylan, H., & Saxon, D. (2002). What works in remediation: Lessons from 30 years of research. Prepared for the League for Innovation in the Community College. Retrieved from

**Gardner, J. (1998). The Changing role of developmental educators in creating and maintaining student success. Keynote address delivered at the College Reading and Learning Association Conference, Salt Lake City, UT.

Academic Goal Setting and Planning

Attaining a goal becomes dramatically easier when the goal is specific and the path to reaching it is clear. Defining this path is the work of academic goal setting and planning.

While academic planning certainly includes course selection, community college students need advising that helps them set and maintain long-term goals. This type of advising and planning centers on creating a clear path from where they are now to their ultimate educational goals. Regular advising provides opportunities to update the plan to respond to changing goals, interests, or circumstances. The academic plan keeps students focused because it shows how each course brings them closer to a key milestone and ultimately, to the certificate or degree they seek.*

*Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.H., Whitt, E.J., and Associates. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Registration Before Classes Begin

Students who register after the first meeting of a class (late registration) may be decreasing their chances for success before even walking through the classroom door. Late registration correlates with lower grades* and lower reenrollment the following term.** Many colleges, however, continue to permit late registration. Moreover, even college with policies forbidding late registration tend to be inconsistent in enforcing them.

Some colleges permit late registration because they do not want to turn interested students away. But colleges do not have to block the door to late registrants. Instead, they can offer options, such as late-start classes or intensive experiences for refreshing academic skills.

*Ford, G.G., Stahl, K.J., Walker, M.E., & Ford, A.M. (June 2008). Better late than never? The relation of registration data to class performance. College Student Journal, 42(2), 402-407.

**Freer-Weiss, D. (2004). Community college freshmen: Last in, first out? Journal of College Student Retention Research Theory and Practice, 6(2), 137-154.

Accelerated or Fast-Track Developmental Education

The longer it takes a student to move through developmental education into a credit program, the more likely he or she is to drop out of college.*

Accelerated or fast-track developmental programs both enhance learning and engagement and help students move to college-level work more quickly. A growing number of colleges are designing accelerated or fast-track developmental education programs so students can focus on specific, targeted issues for remediation; move through developmental education at their own pace; and most important, move into college-level work more quickly.** Well-designed accelerated programs are efficient, and students in these intensive courses perform equally as well, or better than, students in traditional developmental education in terms of course completion, credit accumulation, and persistence.***

*Bettinger, E.P., & Long, B. (2009). Addressing the needs of under-prepared students in higher education: Does college remediation work? Journal of Human Resources, 44(3), 736-771.

**Center for Student Success/RP Group and The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Basic Skills Initiative. (2009). Promising practices for transitioning students from adult education to postsecondary education: A review of the literature with implications for California community colleges. Retrieved from

***Cho, S. W., Kopko, E., Jenkins, D., & Jaggars, S. S. (2012). New evidence of success for community college remedial students: Tracking the outcomes of students in the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP). Retrieved from

First-Year Experience

First-year experience programs create a small community within the larger campus for first-year students, helping them build relationships with other students as well as faculty and staff.

Students who participate in first-year experience programs demonstrate more positive relationships with faculty, greater knowledge and use of campus resources, more involvement in campus activities, and better time-management skills than their non-participating peers.*

*Brownell, J.E., & Swaner, L.E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Student Success Course

Student success courses help students build knowledge and skills essential for success in college, from study and time-management skills to awareness of campus facilities and support services. Students who enroll in Student success courses are more likely to obtain degrees and transfer to four-year institutions.*

*Offenstien, J., Moore, C., & Shulock, N. (2010). Advancing by degrees: A framework for increasing college completion. Retrieved from Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy website:

Learning Community

Learning communities generally involve a group of students taking two or more linked classes together as a cohort, ideally with the instructors of those classes coordinating course outlines and jointly reviewing student progress.

Learning communities build a sense of academic and social community and increase engagement among students and faculty, all of which lead to a variety of positive outcomes. These may include improved academic achievement in terms of GPA, credits earned, and self-reported learning.*

The literature suggests that participating students also demonstrate greater progress in academic subjects, indicate increased satisfaction with the college, and report greater use of student support services. Taken together, according to some studies, these lead to improved retention and learning outcomes.**

*Moore, C., & Shulock, N. (2009). Student progress toward degree completion: Lessons from the research literature. Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy publication retrieved from

**Bourdon, C., & Carducci, R. (2002). What works in the community colleges: A synthesis of literature on best practices. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Graduate School of Education.

Class Attendance

Attending class is a key element of succeeding in college, and emerging evidence indicates that class attendance policies have value. For example, researchers have found that students' class attendance is the best predictor of academic performance in college – it more reliably predicts college grades than do high school GPA, SAT scores and other standardized admissions tests, study habits, and study skills.*

*Crede, M., Roch, S.G., & Kieszczynka, U.M. (2010, June). Class attendance in college: A meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Educational Research, 80(2), 272-295.

Alert and Intervention

Early academic warning processes typically are triggered when faculty members identify students who are struggling and notify others in the college who step in to support the students. Colleges might follow up with students by e-mail, text, social media, or telephone and encourage them to access services, such as tutoring, peer mentoring, study groups, and student success skills workshops.

Some research suggests that when colleges make students aware of their academic difficulties and point students toward available support services students are more likely to successfully complete the course in question and to persist over the long term.*

*Bourdon, C., & Carducci, R. (2002). What works in the community colleges: A synthesis of literature on best practices. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Graduate School of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED471397).

Experiential Learning Beyond the Classroom

Experiential (hands-on) learning, such as internships, co-op experience, apprenticeships, field experience, clinical assignments, and community-based projects, has multiple benefits. It steeps students in content, and it encourages students to make connections and forge relationships that can support them in college and beyond.


Studies suggest that participation in tutoring is associated with higher GPAs and pass rates.* Tutoring also provides much-needed peer support and academic intervention for students who traditionally struggle with the transition to college life.**

*Boylan, H., Bliss, L., & Bonham, B. (1997). Program components and their relationship to student success. Journal of Developmental Education, 20(3), 2-4, 6, 8.

**Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.H., Whitt, E.J., and Associates. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental instruction typically involves a regularly scheduled, supplemental class for a portion of students enrolled in a larger course section. Supplemental instruction may be taught by the class instructor or a trained assistant, often a former student who was successful in the class.

Supplemental instruction, like tutoring, may increase the impact of classroom instruction by providing extra time for skill practice. Students participating in supplemental instruction earn higher grades than their non-participant peers; preliminary evidence also shows them persisting and graduating at higher rates than non-participants.*

*Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol.2). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Center for Community College Student Engagement
—a Service and Research Initiative—
Program in Higher Education Leadership | Department of Educational Leadership and Policy  | College of Education
The University of Texas at Austin
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