Learn more about the factors that can influence whether you graduate from community college.
As you enter into your freshman year of community college, are you already imagining your earned cap and gown on graduation day? Despite goals and ambitions of completing a community college program, research conducted by the academic journal Community College Review reveals that there are specific factors that may indicate whether or not freshman students return to subsequent semesters while continuing to complete their degree.
As the authors David and Renea Fike reveal, “Though it costs more to recruit new students than it does to retain current students, institutions often focus on student recruitment rather than student retention […] Institutions budget for recruiters and associated expenses such as travel and recruiting materials. Recruiting is essential for getting students enrolled. But once they are enrolled, what are institutions doing to retain them?”
Why is Student Retention Important?
According to Fike, student retention is important for various significant reasons. At the basic level, retention rates are necessary for a school’s financial stability and sustained academic progress. Adding to this, “The federal Higher Education Act may use graduation rates as a measure of institutional effectiveness.” On a more personal level, students deserve to engage in a positive collegiate experience, where they are able to “complete their academic goals, and enter the workforce.”
Analysis of Community College Students and Graduation Expectancies
Currently, the average attrition rate of community college students is approximately 41% from the first to the second year of school. To improve the success of students and school performances, Fike asserts that “it is incumbent upon higher education institutions to focus on student success and determine predictors of student retention […] Using data to predict student retention enables institutions to engage in interventions with students who bring particular characteristics and aspirations to the campus.”
To provide schools and students with a detailed analysis of retention rates, Fike analyzed the predictors of student return and graduation from fall to spring and fall to fall by examining the progress of 9,200 first-year community college students enrolled in a four year program at a community college.
Factors Influencing Student Retention and Return
As the Community College Review research reveals, their study of 9,200 students provided common patterns that theoretically influenced a student’s likelihood of return. These factors include:
The number of hours dropped in the first fall semester
Developmental Courses and Student Support Programs
By engaging in developmental courses, many fist year college students received increased support and guidance. As such, students successful in developmental courses were more likely to succeed once exposed to more challenging courses in their second and continuing semesters. As Fike’s statistical studies reveal, “The strongest positive correlate with retention was successful completion of a developmental reading course. Other positive correlates of retention included successful completion of a developmental mathematics course, receiving financial aid, taking an Internet course, semester hours enrolled in the first semester, and participation in student support services.”
Adding to this, as community colleges provide students with a variety of specialized support programs, students who successfully engaged in support programs were able to take advantage of various resources to boost their performance. By engaging in these programs, reports reveal that students were able to successfully return to their community college and earn their degree.
Participation in Online Courses
According to data, students who enrolled in online courses were more likely to experience retention and program completion. As Fike describes, “The online environment makes courses more readily available to students who live complicated lives.”
Considering that students are often attending classes as parents, full or part time workers, and so forth, the online programs provide students with greater options and advantages. “Given that students work and have family responsibilities, the flexibility afforded through online courses is an important option. The growth in availability of online courses in recent years led to the selection of enrollment in these classes as a variable that needed to be assessed.”
Financial Aid and Parent Education
According to the journal’s research, both financial aid and a parent’s educational background influenced a student’s likelihood of graduating. According to studies, “Students from low-income families are far less likely to earn a bachelor's degree than those from higher income families. Because many students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds attend community college, financial aid is salient to this study and was selected as a variable for assessment.”
Adding to this, research reveals that students who are the first generation of family members to enroll in a higher education program are less likely to graduate than students whose parents have earned a higher degree.
Course Hours Enrolled and Dropped
The final key indicators of retention are revealed through information regarding the hours a student is enrolled in addition to the hours / classes that a student drops during his or her fall semester. As Fike reports, the number of semester hours for which a student enrolls in the first fall semester is a positive predictor of retention in this study. Conversely, the number of semester hours dropped during the first fall semester decreases the odds of retention.”
The findings of these statistics and data results reveal that there is a “Positive association between hours enrolled and persistence, as well as a significant positive association between hours completed and persistence.”
Many students enroll in community college with the intent of transferring to a four-year school. Of those who do, many succeed, and yet traditional colleges and universities continue to overlook them. Read on to learn more about why more community college students don’t transfer schools and to receive some tips for making the transfer yourself.
Community college is the only option for many students who either can’t afford a traditional four-year university or who need a more flexible school environment. Just because community college is different, however, doesn’t mean that its students matter any less. The Aspen Prize exists to encourage community colleges to do more for their students and to continually strive for improvement.
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