Academic journal article Community College Review

Eric Review: Community College Students: Recent Findings and Trends

Academic journal article Community College Review

Eric Review: Community College Students: Recent Findings and Trends

Article excerpt

Recent shifts in student composition have shaped and will shape community college mission and policies. Community college faculty and administrators should be aware of enrollment shifts, changing admissions standards, and fluctuating age, gender composition, and racial and ethnic identities of students. This review of the literature discusses these findings as well as student assessment and placement, student success and retention, and postcollege earnings.


To serve the diverse community college student population, institutions must remain cognizant of student needs when developing policies, programs, and services. Demographic shifts, such as Tidal Wave II, will affect future student populations. Although women, minorities, nontraditional age, and part-time students have swelled enrollments on community college campuses in the past decades, projections indicate that community colleges will witness an influx of traditional-age students into the system.

A review of the current state of the community college in relation to students will enable adequate planning for student services and curriculum. In particular, this review presents a discussion of the impact of recent trends on admissions criteria and open access and updates findings on student objectives and characteristics. It also analyzes institutional responses such as assessment, tracking, and retention efforts, and it reports on outcomes such as the transfer function and post-college earnings.

Admissions Standards and the Community College Mission

The development of community colleges offered access to higher education that could not be realized in the selective four-year colleges and universities. The two-year college, with its flexibility and open admissions, has provided opportunities for disadvantaged individuals who might otherwise not attend college (Fusch, 1996).

Table 1 presents admission criteria used for the selection of students in public two-year institutions.

Of all the factors, the high school diploma is the criterion most often considered by institutions for admission, while class standing is the least often considered. Age and test scores are selection factors in nearly 40% of the two-year schools, while more than 60% use "ability to benefit" as admission criteria. Clearly, the table indicates that open admissions continues to be a central function of the community college.

However, Phelan (2000) believes that the open door policy of community colleges is "threatening to close" (p. 1) as a result of rising enrollments and declining public interest and investment in higher education. He suggests that the available policy options such as capping enrollments, instituting performance-based funding, and restricting the enrollment of students already holding degrees have been positive and negative implications for community college access.

Rendon (2000) maintains that community colleges ought to view themselves as unique institutions functioning for the purpose of providing access to a wide range of students. She suggests that the focus of the community college be on educating students and encouraging students to become active and responsible citizens. In a similar vein, Nora (1999) recommends that community colleges advance into the twenty-first century prepared for a diverse student body. She advocates motivating students to pursue higher levels of education, providing opportunities for students to integrate themselves into the college experience, and involving faculty more fully in the preparation and validation of students.

Community colleges are faced with widely varying needs related to their diverse student population. Pulled in many directions, these institutions must find ways to accommodate a broad range of students simultaneously lest the fundamental values of democracy and universal access on begin to fade.

Students Objectives

Cohen and Brawer (1996) suggest that students attend community colleges for numerous reasons: to better themselves financially, to obtain job entry skills, to upgrade job skills, to fulfill a personal interest, or to take classes that will transfer to senior institutions. …

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