The following article appeared in the December 8, 2008, edition of Community College Times.
Extra support key to fostering student success
A new report reinforces the need for faculty members and student services staff to hold high expectations for students, while at the same time providing an array of wrap-around support services to ensure that students succeed.
A new study from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (known as CCSSE) depicts the challenges that many community college students face that could be barriers to their success. For example, 56 percent work more than 20 hours a week, 30 percent have children living with them, well over a third are first-generation college students and almost 30 percent come from families with incomes less than $20,000 a year.
Providing students with extra support has already been documented to improve success, the report said. The key now is to implement such efforts that suit students' schedules.
That may be difficult as many students spend little time on campus and often don't have time to tap such services. Data indicate that most students find support services such as academic advising and planning, career counseling and financial aid help very important, yet a significant portion of them do not use such services offered on their campuses.
"Colleges can address this challenge by making engagement strategies and support services inescapable, either by integrating them into the classroom experience, making them mandatory or otherwise bringing them to students," the CCSSE report said.
The study highlighted several community colleges that changed their approach to engaging students that yielded measurable results.
Skagit Valley College (Washington) brought student support into the classroom through counseling-enhanced learning communities. In its demonstration project, a faculty counselor helped the team teaching the developmental learning communities. Time management, educational planning, test preparation and other skills were taught as part of the course work, the report said.
Students in the group had an 82 percent fall-to-winter retention rate, compared with a 76 percent retention rate for students in developmental education learning communities without counselors and 74 percent retention rate for students in general development courses.
Florida Community College at Jacksonville found that its Student Life Skills course had such positive results that the college began requiring it for all students who needed developmental education in at least two areas, the report said.
Students who took the course had a 77 percent pass ratea grade of 'C' or betterin their development classes and a 78 percent pass rate in their other classes. Students who did not take the course had a 62 percent pass rate in development classes and 58 percent pass rate in their other classes.
The college plans to extend the mandatory class to all students who need developmental education, even in just one course, and to eventually expand the program to all first-time, degree-seeking students, the report said.
Northwest Vista College (NVC) in Texas took a different approach that helped to increase student retention. In fall 2005, 23 percent of NVC students had undeclared majors, which the college saw as a problem because such students were more likely to drop out. To get students to pick a major, the college launched Explore Your Possibilities, which focuses on first-time college students. It involves advising, campus advancements, a career assessment administered in a student development seminar and other activities.
Undeclared majors at the college dropped to 11 percent in fall 2007 and to 9 percent in spring 2008, the report said.
CCSSE is part of the Community College Leadership Program in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.
"Essential Elements of Engagement: High Expectations, High Support" is available at www.ccsse.org.