Community college students are an at-risk group because of their lack of preparation and lack of a firm connection to the institution. Using the literature on student retention that equates a caring and concerned faculty with student satisfaction, the Arts and Humanities department at Atlantic Cape Community College initiated an intense academic advisement outreach to students in the majors of studio arts, humanities, performing arts, and history. Surveys were sent to the general student population as well as the recipients of the initiative. The resulting data revealed a stronger sense of connection to the institution by the Arts and Humanities students than by the general student poulation and a higher rate of retention than exhibited in previous semesters. This research tended to validate earlier studies that equated student satisfaction with retention in the community college setting.
This article recounts the efforts by the Arts and Humanities (A&H) department at Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC) to increase student retention in the spring of 2001 by personalizing academic advisement for the students seeking degrees in studio arts, humanities, history, or performing arts. Discussion of the retention issues concerning the community college is vital since an increasing number of students are using the community college as their entree into the world of higher education (Cohen, 1998). According to Laanan (2001), more than 50% of the students in higher education begin their career at the two-year level, yet only 29.5% of these students actually receive a degree (Tinto, 1987).
In many cases, a community college student is an at-risk student (Cohen & Brawer, 1987) facing almost insurmountable barriers to academic success. Potential impediments to degree completion may include being a first-generation college student, having poor academic skills, being burdened by family and work pressures, being a language minority student, and lacking a consistent connection to the college. The most obvious of these hurdles is the lack of adequate preparation for college-level work. A poor high school record (Bean, 1980) or the passage of time and the commensurate erosion of academic skills are indications of overwhelming hindrances to academic success. In addition, most adult students are faced with competing demands on their time (Stewart, Merril, & Saluri, 1985). The pressures of family and employment responsibilities can easily frustrate the returning adult student. Another factor that can inhibit the success of the community college student is that community colleges are designed for the commuting student rather than for participants in a residential life program. Most community college students come to the campus for classes and leave as soon as classes are over. The support group that residential students might form is rarely as developed for the commuting student. When the classes are over, the commuter will typically return to an environment where the support for continued education may be minimal and where a dozen other constituencies may be competing for the student's time and attention (Stewart et al., 1985). For a residential student, leaving college may mean packing up, getting out of a lease, and leaving friends (Stewart et al., 1985), while a community college student can simply stop attending.
Retention and Faculty
Discussions on community college issues tend to downplay the significance that extracurricular activities play in student satisfaction. One research report (Hagedorn, Maxwell, Rodriguez, Hocevar, & Fillpot, 2000) states that "student clubs and government, concerts and artistic events, and athletics do not figure prominently in the community college students' campus priorities. The classroom is the main point of student contact with the college" (p. 591). The literature is consistent when emphasizing the importance of the faculty in student retention. …