Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Student Input Helps Community Colleges Improve Overall Experience

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Student Input Helps Community Colleges Improve Overall Experience

Article excerpt

Focus groups find out what works in the classroom, on campus.

She was in her second year at a community college in Washington state when we met She's the first in her family to go to college. Her parents are farm workers. She describes in English, her second language, the first time she stepped on the campus in this small northwestern community that is now her home.

"I'm from Texas," she says. "I'm used to being around all Hispanic people. I wasn't used to being around a lot of White people. That was intimidating."

She describes opening the door to the college, stepping inside, and seeing a young woman sitting at a table by the door. "It felt nice," she tells us, "to get greeted by another Hispanic. I walk in and I see her. Then it's like Oh, nice, you know there's more people here [like me]."'

Like many community colleges throughout the country, Skagit Valley College (Wash.) readies out to its increasingly diverse student population and wants all students who come through its doors to feel at home. Skagit is one of the 16 colleges that have been recognized for improving student retention since the 2002-2003 academic year through the Metlife Foundation Initiative on Student Success. The foundation is a partner to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) in the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Student Voices Bring the Data to Life

For the last five years, an increasing number of community colleges have, through CCSSE, asked their students to provide data about their college experience. Drawing on research and practice that tell us what factors contribute to increased student persistence, learning and academic success, the students tell us in quantitative terms about their level of engagement - that is, the amount of time and energy they invest in meaningful educational practices. Through the Metlife Foundation Initiative, we conduct focus groups and interviews, listen to students and learn about what works for them in the classroom and in college services.

Data tell us a compelling story about community college student success. Studies of student attrition show that significant numbers of students leave college before completing their first term. In focus groups, we ask students whether they have ever considered dropping out Not surprisingly, almost all tell us they have. …

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