Report: Community Colleges Challenged to Serve Diverse, Multi-Tasking Students

Report: Community Colleges Challenged to Serve Diverse, Multi-Tasking Students

A national report released last month offers new findings on students’ experiences in community colleges, where almost half of the undergraduate students in American public colleges and universities are now enrolled.

Results from the 2004 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) help community colleges assess their educational practices so they can improve student outcomes in one of the most challenging and least understood sectors of American higher education. The report issues a call to action, asserting that community colleges need to re-think and re-design college experiences to intentionally incorporate practices that will be more effective in promoting student success.

The CCSSE report brings home the fact that community college students are a remarkably diverse group and that their students are typically multi-taskers. Two-thirds attend their community college part time — and 14 percent attend more than one educational institution simultaneously; 81 percent work — and 60 percent work more than 20 hours per week; 33 percent have children who live with them; and nearly all commute to class. These students are busy people, so in contrast to traditional college students, they are unlikely to hang around campus for the impromptu study session or the casual conversation with students and professors over a cup of coffee. They come to class, and then they are gone — back to their jobs, families and community obligations. According to CCSSE, 84 percent of community college students never participate in college-sponsored extra-curricular activities.

According to Dr. Kay McClenney, CCSSE’s director, the survey results underscore the challenges that community colleges face. “It is true,” she says, “that most community college students will continue to work, commute and have other demands for their time. Many will continue to feel that abandoning their education is an easier path than continuing it. But these challenges don’t make student engagement impossible. They just mean it won’t happen by accident. Engagement has to be intentional — it has to happen by design.” 

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