During his State of the Union speech last month, President Obama called on America’s community colleges to become a key part of revitalizing the skills of the U.S. workforce.
New data shows that community colleges still have significant hurdles to clear to meet Obama’s goals.
Enrollment at two-year institutions is nearly 22% higher than 2007 figures, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. But while community colleges are accommodating more students, there remains a need to address incongruities in policies and programs.
By adopting a more realistic understanding of the challenges ahead and what has proved “promising practices,” colleges have a chance to adjust to the changing landscape.
A brand-new study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin explores four key findings in student engagement and success:
- • Gaps between student aspirations and results Data shows that 79% of entering students aim to complete an associate degree, yet fewer than 45% who intend to earn an associate degree or certificate meet that goal within six years.
- • Developmental education Nearly 75% of students report they were required to take an academic placement test, but only 28% report using materials provided by the college to prepare for those tests.
- • Supplemental learning communities Investing in centralized learning and technology support for students in developmental skills led to a 10% increase in the number of students successfully completing classes at Tallahassee Community College.
- • Academic planning Only 26% of entering students report that a college staff member or teacher spoke with them about their commitments outside of class to help them figure out how many classes to take.
For Contra Costa College student Robin Lopez, being placed in a remedial math course was disappointing. Certain the placement exam was incorrect, he provided proof of similar high school coursework and skipped ahead to pre-calculus.
But rather than saving time as expected, Lopez dropped the course after realizing it was too difficult and enrolled in the basic skills course the following semester.
Data suggests that given the opportunity to review materials or take short-term workshops before placement tests, students can minimize the amount of mediation needed.
“Helping students beyond the classroom is fundamental to the success of community colleges,” former college president William Law said. “We need to put our money where our values are.”
Nearly 90% of participating colleges reported supplemental instruction, but only 14% make it a mandatory segment of the curriculum.
For Mike Reid, a student at San Diego Mesa College, having tutoring services is a key component in his education. The 57-year-old was laid off from his job as a truck driver and is now seeking a teaching career.
“I consider myself computer illiterate, but there are resources and people here to help learn those skills,” Reid said. “It’s a brave new world.”
Law said that more fundamental face-to-face or intensive orientations are necessary at the community college level. These experiences, especially setting up students with learning plans, should be mandatory.
“We have to be much more proactive than we’ve ever been in the past,” he said. “The results we’re seeing shows we’re not purposeful enough.”
These preliminary descriptive findings paint the picture of what community colleges are facing and future reports will show more analysis of what the effects are when students and faculty participate in a combination of these promising practices, McClenney said.
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