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Report: Black Students Among the Most Engaged at Community Colleges

Black community college students who are typically categorized high-risk are more engaged than students from other racial groups, a national survey released today by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement reports.

“High-risk students, including African-Americans, are more engaged than their low-risk counterparts” says Dr. Kay McClenney, who directed the survey. “It seems a bit counterintuitive, but the reality reflected in the data is that it is only the highly engaged, high-risk students who persist to the spring semester.”

Female and international students, students seeking credentials, nontraditional age students (over 24), students who work fewer than 30 hours per week and students who have participated in orientation are the most engaged students, meaning that they are more likely to graduate or complete their respective program of interest, the study shows.

The annual report entitled, “High Expectations and High Support,” offers data about the quality of community college students’ educational experiences and describes how a number of colleges across the country are responding to the challenges. To improve the quality of education and increase the level of engagement for its students, community colleges must establish expectations, surveyors found.

Indeed, community colleges serve an atypical type of student. According to data collected by the community college survey, almost two-thirds of community college students attend college part-time, 56 percent work more than 20 hours per week, 30 percent have children living them, more than a third are first-generation college students and roughly 30 percent come from families with incomes under $20,000 annually.

Still, the report states, “These characteristics are not excuses for low performance on the part of colleges or their students. They simply reflect a reality of community colleges.”

Students do best when expectations are high and they receive support that helps them achieve at high levels, says Dr. Vince Tinto, a distinguished professor of Higher Education at Syracuse University. Lower the standards, and the quality suffers.

“No one rises to low expectations, adds Tinto, an established expert on student engagement.

About half of the survey’s respondents reported that they often or very often worked harder than they thought they could to meet an instructor’s standards or expectations; 11 percent of students say they never did so.

Survey items included benchmarks to address the nature and amount of assigned academic work, the complexity of cognitive tasks presented to students, and the standards faculty members use to evaluate student performance. More than 58 percent of respondents say that their coursework emphasized synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences in new ways quite a bit or very much. By contrast, 64 percent of students say that their coursework emphasizes memorizing facts and ideas “quite a bit” or very much.

Key services are also significantly related to student success. But since many community college students spend limited time on campus, they are less likely to utilize these services. Colleges can address this by making engagement strategies and support services inescapable by integrating them into the classroom experience, making them mandatory, or otherwise bringing them to students, the report states.

Although community college students are disproportionately in need, more than 40 percent failed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms this year. Finding out why community college students neglect to complete the form remains a priority, the survey found. Nearly 40 percent of respondents didn’t think that they would qualify for financial aid.

More than 70 percent of respondents said that their college provides the support they need to succeed in college quite a bit or very much, while 45 percent of students reported that their college provides the financial support they need in order to afford their education “quite a bit” or “very much.”

This report may be downloaded free of charge at CCSSE is part of the Community College Leadership Program in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. 


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