As the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSSE) celebrated its 20th anniversary over the last year, we’ve reflected on what we’ve learned so far about community college students and what helps them succeed. Upon this reflection, here are some long-held beliefs we have about community college students:
Relationships are vital for community college students. When students participating in CCCSE focus groups are asked if they have ever considered dropping out of college, many say they have. And when they are asked what helped them stay, students’ answers, almost without exception, are about relationships.
Engagement doesn’t happen by accident, but by design
Many people have heard the saying “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Just as every system is designed to get the results it gets, so is every community college. Every interaction with students presents the potential to engage them. But student engagement is not likely to happen by accident. Engagement must be intentional — it must happen by design.
Student expectations don’t always mirror reality
Most community college students believe they are prepared academically to succeed in college. National completion data tell a different story, however. It is incumbent upon us to be clear with students about how long it will take them to reach their goals and to make them aware of the academic supports available to help them along the way.
Students don’t do optional
Years of CCCSE data and focus group interviews with students have shown us that community college students often don’t take advantage of recommended academic supports that could help them succeed. But when colleges make those supports mandatory, opportunities for failure are removed.
Active and engaged learning matters
One of the founding principles of CCCSE’s work is that the more actively engaged students are with their learning, the more likely they are to succeed. For years, student focus group participants have said that active instructional approaches that encourage engaged learning, such as small-group work and student-led activities, make them more enthusiastic about their classes and more likely to attend and participate.
High expectations matter; student support services matter
High expectations and support services go hand in hand. Challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality — and so are the standards faculty members set for their students. Setting a high standard and then giving students the necessary support — academic planning, academic support, financial aid, and so on — make the standard attainable.
Having a plan matters
The ongoing work of guided pathways has shown us that starting with the end in mind matters for community college student success. Attaining a goal becomes dramatically easier when the goal is specific and the path to reaching it is clear.
Where we’re headed
For years, CCCSE has shared insights that matter around topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We strongly believe issues of equity matter, and the work we are doing in 2022 and embarking upon in 2023 reflects this.
Student basic needs and mental health and well-being
We have learned in recent years that if colleges are to help their students succeed, they must dig deeper to understand all the life barriers that affect their students — and those life barriers include challenges related to basic needs and mental health and well-being. CCCSE surveyed and interviewed almost 100,000 students to better understand the needs of different student populations. We will soon release the findings from the investigation, which began in 2021. In 2023, CCCSE will undertake an investigation of student mental health and well-being.
We are refining our existing survey instruments to create a survey focused specifically on dually enrolled students as the community college student population has evolved to include many dually enrolled high school students. Understanding the experiences of these students before they graduate high school, we can identify supports to successfully assist and help them persist to accomplish their postsecondary education goals.
Dr. Courtney Adkins is associate director of publications and Dr. Linda L. García is executive director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). The mission of CCCSE is to provide “aha” moments about the student experience. Follow CCCSE on Twitter: @CommCollSurveys.
The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.