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By Paul Bradley  /  
2013 October 17 - 12:00 am

STUDY: Too Few Colleges Embrace Successful Educational Practices

A growing body of research has identified about a dozen policies and practices that can improve graduation and retention rates. But while a growing number of colleges are offering things such as student success courses, learning communities and experiential learning, only a small number of colleges require such student experiences and far too few students participate in them.

But while a growing number of colleges are offering experiences such as student success courses, learning communities and experiential learning, only a small number of colleges require such student experiences and far too students participate in them.

That’s the chief finding of a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement titled A Matter of Degrees: Engaging Practices Engaging Students (http://www.ccsse.org/docs/Matter_of_Degrees_2_EFAHQR.pdf).

The report is the second in a series of three and is part of a multi-year initiative to identify and promote high-impact educational practices in community colleges, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.

In 2012, the center released that identified and described 13 promising approaches to increase student retention and graduation rates at community colleges. This new study tracks how many students are participating in such practices and whether their participation increases their odds of finishing college.

The report acknowledges that community colleges are being whipsawed by increases demands for accountability, growing student diversity and shrinking financial resources. But it says that by understanding of what works in promoting student success, leaders can target limited resources to those educational approaches likely to produce improved outcomes for large numbers of students.

The report provides colleges with a framework for examining their own practices, and particularly for discerning gaps between what students need and what colleges provide, and the additional gaps between what colleges provide and what students actually experience.

Said center Director Kay McClenney: “With that perspective in mind and with sharpened focus on evidence-based design of students’ educational experiences, colleges can make better decisions about which practices to discontinue, redesign, or bring to scale.”

The report found large gaps between what works in promoting student success and what students actually experience on campus. For example:

* 84 percent of colleges report offering student success courses. But just 20 percent of experienced students and 29 percent of new students took a student success course during their first term.

* Students who said an advisor helped them develop an academic plan perform better than those who don’t. But just 66 percent of colleges report having a systematic process whereby entering students set academic goals by the end of their first term.

* A clearly explained class attendance policy has a notably positive effect on students, but relatively few colleges have one.

McClenney said the results should prompt frank campus discussions about redesigning student experiences. The caveat, she says, is that “improved student success and college completion isn’t about having a checklist, or one of everything—a collection boutique programs. Quality of design and implementation is critically important. Integrating discrete practices into coherent pathways is essential. And community colleges will achieve the improved results they seek only when they commit to high-quality implementation at significantly higher scale.”

She added: “The field has known for more than a decade the importance of student engagement. Simply stated, engagement matters — and more engagement matters more. These results underscore the importance of community college efforts to make student engagement inescapable. Requiring students to take part in activities likely to enhance their success is a step community colleges can readily take. They just need to decide to do it.”

The report brings together survey responses from entering students, experienced students, faculty and institutions. Data sources include the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE), and the Community College Institutional Survey (CCIS).

The report is based on responses to the core student surveys from approximately 99,500 entering students (SENSE) and more than 458,000 experienced students (CCSSE) in multi-year cohorts. Special promising practices items, administered in 2012, produced responses from about 48,000 entering students and 95,000 or more experienced students. Approximately 36,000 respondents are included in faculty survey results. Reported findings from the Institutional survey are based on responses from up to 441 colleges.

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