November 20, 2007

NEWS: Catching Fish

The One That Didn't Get Away
Community college leaders must lure freshmen with positive first semester experiences or watch their school swim away

by Miguel M. Morales

A new study might cause Johnson County Community College to change its motto “Learning Comes First” to “Learning Comes in the First.”

Anne Driscoll, senior research scientist at the School of Education, University of California - Davis, authored a new study examining the crucial role the first semester plays at community colleges.

According to the study, “Beyond Access: How the First Semester Matters for Community College Students’ Aspirations and Persistence,” a positive and successful first academic experience at a community college supports students’ goals to stay in school and help maintain their aspirations to transfer to a four-year institution. Conversely, a less successful academic experience decreases the likelihood students will persist towards that goal.

“This study suggests that devoting greater attention to first semester students in the forms of guidance and academic support including tutoring or resource centers could pay big dividends by increasing the proportion of students who remain in college and achieve their educational goals,” the report reads.

While JCCC has no such comparative survey of first semester students, another of its studies provides insight into how a positive semester can influence subsequent semesters.

According to a 1996 study, “Enrollment Management Research: Students Who Drop Out early in the Semester,” 20 percent of the students dropped classes in previous semesters.

The survey discounts late registration as a negative factor influencing the college’s attrition rate as fifty-two percent enrolled during early registration.

However, finances influenced 24 percent of the students’ decision to leave.

“Of those who said that financial concerns were a factor in dropping, 56 percent said they needed $500 or less additional money to stay in school,” the report states.

Twenty-three percent of the students said they did not plan to return to JCCC. Of those who planned to persist in their goal, 29 percent said it would not occur within the next two semesters.

This supports Driscoll’s study, which states that 25 percent of first semester community college students do not return the following semester.

Here are a few highlights from Driscoll’s report:
  • Six in ten young adult high school graduates who entered community college with the goal of transferring had either left school or reduced their aspirations after only one semester.
  • Students who failed to return to college for the second semester were the least likely to transfer to a four-year institution within six years.
  • The report also states it is crucial to develop and support policies and interventions that increase the chances of success for high school graduates, particularly Blacks and Latinos, who aspire to graduate from a four-year institution.