Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Courses in the Way of Community College Completion

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Courses in the Way of Community College Completion

Article excerpt

Community College Research Center (CCRC) recently published Not Just Math and English: Courses That Pose Obstacles to Community College Completion (CCRC Working Paper No. 52, .\ovember 2012). The authors of the paper, Mathcw Zeidcnberg and Davis Jenkins from CCRC and Marc A. Scott from New York University, have added to our knowledge of gatekeeper courses and helped to explain why so many community college students don't complete their degrees.

For quite some time, research has shown that college-level math and English courses have been obstacles in the way of community college student success. Since these courses are required for graduation and they have high failure rales, it is no wonder there has been an emphasis on remediation in these disciplines, and rightly so,

The basic finding of this new CCRC paper is that there is a much broader range of courses that also serve as gatekeepers that interfere with academic success, retention and degree completion. The researchers suggest mediods colleges could use to identify these courses and then measure the extent each of them poses to college completion if students fail to pass them. Zeidcnberg el al. compared student performance in certain courses and then analyzed daia showing which students successfully completed a degree and which ones did not.

Another interesting finding is that C-??, grade point average, is a stronger predictor of college completion than performance in any one particular course. The implications of this finding are particularly relevant for improving retention and completion for community college students. Colleges should monitor students' uverall academic performance to identify those at risk for noncomplction. Once those high-risk students have been identified, community colleges should design academic and nonacademic interventions to promote tlieir retention and eventual academic success.

Mother implication of the Gl'A data is that colleges should also keep track of students who did well in the gatekeeper courses but siili dropped out of college. Again, intrusive advisement comes into play - colleges should track those students after they have left, discover their reasons for leaving, and encourage them to come back to college.

The finding that there are additional gatekeeper courses beyond mathematics and English suggests that college remediation should go beyond offering developmental courses only in ihose subjects and broaden support services in other disciplines where students struggle.

As the authors point out, "... because completing college requires much more than simply completing developmental instruction and passing college-level math and English, a focus on these courses is necessary but not sufficient. There are a wide variety of courses that a student must successfully complete in order to earn a credential. Some of these are introductory courses in particular fields such as business, nursing or science. As with entry-level math and English, such introductory courses tend to enroll large numbers of students. Failure rates in many of these courses are high, suggesting that they too may serve as significant obstacles to completion,"

In the tradition of implementing completion strategies based on datadriven evidence, die authors of this paper offer mediods colleges can use to identify and assess courses that often serve as the obstacles keeping community college students from earning tlieir degrees. Colleges would then be able to allocate resources to promote student success in these other gatekeeper courses.

The goal would be to use such information about student performance to provide assistance to those struggling students before they leave college. Since these courses appear to be important milestones towards degree completion, the authors suggest that colleges may be able to improve their overall graduation rates by helping students overcome the impediments that stand in their way of academic success,

Although the data presented in this paper shows that completers of community college degrees generally have higher grades and GPAs than those students who leave college, there are substantial numbers of noncompleters who have good grades and yet they drop out. …

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