Academic journal article Community College Review

Community Colleges under the Microscope: An Analysis of Performance Predictors for Native and Transfer Students

Academic journal article Community College Review

Community Colleges under the Microscope: An Analysis of Performance Predictors for Native and Transfer Students

Article excerpt

Stratified random samples of native and transfer students at a university were compared based on data extracted from student transcripts for 1989, 1990, and 1991. Transfers' first-semester GPAs at the university were less than their community college cumulative GPAs, but natives maintained similar upper and lower division GPAs. Regression analysis revealed, however, that upper division GPAs varied little between native and transfer students when influences of related variables were held constant. Separate regression analyses of transfer and native variables detected that lower division GPA and major were significant predictors of upper division GPA for both groups, but more so for transfers than for natives, with business and science majors earning lower GPAs than others. Although race was not a significant predictor for transfers, it was the most significant predictor for native students: White natives earned higher upper division GPAs than minority natives. The authors conclude that community colleges need to improve the rigor of their business and science programs, but they provide nurturing environments for minority students.

Nearly 50% of those enrolled in public institutions of higher learning (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996) attend one of a thousand or so public community colleges in the United States (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1995). When considering the long-term implications for success at four-year colleges, however, the quality of community college education has been and continues to be controversial and widely debated (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Dougherty, 1994; Parnell, 1982; Zwerling, 1976, 1986).

Community colleges have been praised for their democratic access to higher education (Gleazer, 1980; Griffith & Connor, 1994) and heralded as "People Colleges," "Democracy Colleges," and "Opportunity Colleges" (Gleazer, 1980, p. 88) while simultaneously being criticized for severe limitations (Brint & Karabel, 1989; McGrath & Spear, 1991). Much literature questioning the intent and quality of community college education exists. McGrath and Spear (1991) chronicle a crisis resulting from a lack of academic rigor in the community college classroom. They state that "as the average level of academic preparedness and interest of students declines, the faculty respond by simply watering down the requirements" (p. 17). Along a similar vein, Brint and Karabel (1989) argue that the community college is not a springboard to four-year institutions but manages ambition and diverts students from four-year colleges.

Conversely, proponents of community colleges emphasize the needs of the learner. They recognize that the majority of their student population traditionally has been excluded from participating in higher education, and they support extending educational opportunity to all persons (Gleazer, 1980). Because of this commitment, community colleges are widely regarded as the best and most humanized form of undergraduate instruction (Southerland, 1986). Yet despite the positive evaluations, community college faculty continue to be regarded as inferior educators (Vaughan, 1992) because four-year college faculty continue to command more respect as scholars than two-year college faculty.

Leading Criticisms Against the Community College

Are students who begin their studies at four-year institutions (native students) better prepared for junior and senior educational endeavors (upper division course work) than community college transfer students? Two major explanations are often used to explain grade differences between transfer and native students: (a) the aptitude differences between the two groups and (b) the nurturing environment that is more predominant in community colleges than four-year colleges.

Aptitude

The aptitude argument suggests that the lower ability of community college entrants offers an explanation for decreased performance levels at the four-year college. …

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