Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Underprepared, Ethnically Diverse Community College Students: Factors Contributing to Persistence

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Underprepared, Ethnically Diverse Community College Students: Factors Contributing to Persistence

Article excerpt

Postsecondary institutions such as community colleges emphasize student retention because high levels of attrition may harm the interests of many constituents (Bragg, 2001). For example, Bragg identifies interests such as the long-term earning options of students; the economic vitality of communities needing skilled workers; and the institution's curriculum development, faculty planning, mission, and political impact.

College administrators perceive student retention rates as indicators which measure the quality of faculty instruction, support services, and student success. In community colleges this is particularly disconcerting because of the number of college students whose entry placement scores require them to enroll in developmental education classes and their low persistence and graduation rates (Bers & Smith, 1991; Burley, Butner, & Cejda, 2001). Nationally, approximately one-third of all students entering colleges or universities need remediation (Byrd & McDonald, 2005); as many as 41% of all community college freshmen nationwide are enrolled in developmental courses (Hoyt, 1999; McCabe, 2003).

The following question framed the study: To what did underprepared community college students who participated in a learning community and completed their developmental classes attribute their having graduated (graduates) or earning at least 30 credit-bearing college credits (the persisters) as compared to those who participated in a learning community but did not complete their developmental classes and who dropped out of college (dropouts)?

College students enrolling in developmental classes and not participating in learning communities have demonstrated a higher attrition rate and a lower completion rate (Boylan 1999; Burley et al, 2001; McCabe, 2003; Roueche & Roueche, 1999) compared to college students who participated in learning communities; the latter academically outperformed nonparticipants (Brittenham et al., 2003; Knight, 2003; Raftery, 2005). Most studies have been conducted at 4-year institutions or among specifically defined cohorts such as those enrolled in honors colleges or specific majors. Zhao and Kuh (2004) analyzed 80,479 students from 365 fouryear institutions, finding that participation in a learning community was positively linked with engagement in active and collaborative learning, increased interaction with faculty members, and augmented overall satisfaction with the college experience. At the time of this study, 284 institutions had listed their programs with the Washington Center Learning Communities National Resource Directory (2007). Of that number, 101 represented community colleges, and only 9 of those institutions, including the study site, had implemented learning communities for students in developmental education classes. Developmental education (also known as postsecondary remediation, basic skills education, compensatory education, or preparatory education) is composed primarily of sequences of increasingly advanced courses designed to bring underprepared students to the level of skill competency expected of college freshmen (McCabe, 2003).

Theoretical Framework

Several theorists have studied factors that contribute to persistence and attrition rates of college students. Tinto (1975) created the integration model, reflecting that students who are more integrated and feel valued are more likely to persist. Students who possess certain precollege characteristics such as middle to high socioeconomic status, positive secondary school achievement, and strong family support were more likely to persist and graduate (Tinto, 1997). Astin (1984) studied persistence and student success, finding that the greater the amount of time a student participates in cocurricular and other activities in and out of the classroom, the more likely he or she will continue in school. Frequent interaction with faculty was more strongly related to satisfaction than any other involvement (Astin, 1996); yet developmental, culturally and ethnically diverse students have rarely been shown to develop close relationships with their professors (Nora & Cabrera, 1996). …

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