Researchers Investigate Persistence Among Minority Two-Year Transferees
RALEIGH, N.C. — You can lead a community college student to a university, but can you make him graduate?
That’s a question Dr. Wynetta Y. Lee, a specialist in adult and community college education at North Carolina State University, hopes to answer this summer when she completes a study on the low retention rate of minority community college students who try to attain a four-year degree.
While she hasn’t quite pinpointed exactly how low that figure is, she says that preliminary data suggests it is “alarming.”
The project, titled “Toward Educational Excellence Regardless of Race, Gender, or Class: Providing a Smooth Transition Between Institutional Environments,” is funded by a $10,000 grant from The College Board’s first Equity Research Program grant, initiated last year.
“Ultimately, the research will inform stakeholders of appropriate policies and programs that will foster the preparation and access of a severely under-served population,” says Lee.
While there is debate over how — or if it is even possible — to assess the number of community college transfer students who actually go on to achieve their baccalaureate degrees, Lee believes that not enough of the students at four-year universities finish, or finish fast enough.
But because many community college students do get accepted at four-year institutions, she thinks the issue is not one of the quality of the community college education, but an issue on the receiving end.
To find out what’s working at four-year universities, Lee and her colleagues are surveying 1,200 community college students who have persisted at a university after successful transfer and enrollment to determine what makes them successful. The student sample is being drawn from three historically Black colleges and three predominantly White institutions.
“The Black universities have a historical success record with educating students who have the most difficulty getting through the educational system,” Lee says. “We want to know if they are more successful with transfer students as well.
“We’re not expecting to find easy solutions,” she continues. “We want to get some ideas from the student’s perspective of how the academic environment could be more welcoming and supporting for them.”
Anonymous surveys were mailed to transfer students at schools in the Southeast, the Midwest and the West. Follow-up focus group sessions are being conducted on the campuses with about 40 students at each school.
Lee is joined in her research by Dr. Frankie Laana, of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Dr. Norma McLaughlin of historically Black Fayetteville State University. The report from the survey will be released this summer.
While the inquiry is geared toward finding out what helps students generally in terms of success elements, it also will look at what type of particular impact these success elements have for minorities.
Toward that end, Lee believes, the research will enhance equity in educational excellence for students, regardless of race, gender or class.
“When you start talking about millions and millions of people who are not reaching an educational goal that in this society provides the means of being economically competitive and self-sufficient, if that number continues to grow exponentially over the years, it becomes a tremendous drain on society,” Lee says.
“If we have a majority of a group…not attaining success, the logical conclusion is going to be a tremendous liability to society,” she adds.
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