Success Begets Success

Community colleges can improve graduation rates by offering a course that teaches students how to navigate college with lessons on study skills, time management and how to find the bursar’s office. Yet while “student success” courses are increasingly common, resistance remains strong at many community colleges.

That’s because all courses come with costs, through hiring or shifting faculty, finding classrooms and creating curriculums. And some academics don’t like the idea of spending limited resources or awarding credit on classes that teach note-taking or other basic skills.

Another challenge is turf wars over deciding which department should manage a student success course. If the class is housed in the communications department, for example, that probably means communications can include one less traditional course among its offerings.

It can also be controversial to ask students to pay for a success class, which are sometimes seen as a patronizing extension of high school, but are typically 1-3 credits, and count toward degrees or credentials as would an English or math class.

Yet research strongly suggests that taking the plunge on a student success course is a good move for two-year colleges.

Take Tulsa Community College, which for four years has required that about 1,000 incoming students take its “Academic Strategies” course. Those students are 20 percent more likely to remain enrolled at the college than students who don’t take the course, according to data collected by the college, and they also perform better in academic coursework.

Other community colleges have seen similar results. At Durham Technical Community College, for example, students who take the course have shown a 30 percent increase in retention.

Rachel Singer is a fan of student success courses. She’s vice president for community college relations and applied research at Achieving the Dream, which supports such offerings.

“Once you’ve seen what the results are, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Singer, who helped develop a student success course at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, where she worked previously. That course improved student retention and graduation rates. And Singer said a survey showed it eventually won over the faculty, who believed the course was an “irreplaceable” form of student support.

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