A new report published by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) argues there are three ways to tell if your students are on track to graduate on time—within their first semester of school.
David Jenkins and Thomas Baily, the report's authors, emphasize the importance of measuring early signs of success. When it comes to implementing reforms, they write, "If we rely on longer term metrics, we will have to wait several years... to begin to get an indication of whether they are working."
They recommend focusing on the following early indicators of student success:
1. Are they taking 15 credits during the first term?
Jenkins and Baily define the first success indicator, "credit momentum," in terms of the amount of credits the student attempts to start—ideally, 15 semester credits in the first term or at least 30 semester credits in the first academic year.
"Students are frequently misled about time to completion when they are told that 12 credits is full-time," the authors write. Twelve credits is usually the minimum load required for financial aid, but the report points out that "students who take 12 credits per term cannot complete an associate degree in two years or a bachelor's degree in four years."
If your answer is no: To encourage more students to take 15 credits, the report suggests clarifying requirements and time-to-completion estimates from the beginning.
"Ideally, students should be shown precisely what courses they need to take to complete their certificates or degrees and given a clear estimate of how long this will take," write Jenkins and Baily. They also suggest offering the likelihood and potential cost of completion if a student's course load falls below 30 yearly credits.
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2. Are your students taking college-level math and English courses?
The second success metric the authors describe is "gateway momentum," which refers to a student's "taking and passing pathway-appropriate college-level math and college-level English in the first academic year."
The authors report that when students take prerequisites and remedial courses—which has often been the norm at community colleges—timely graduation is not feasible.
If your answer is no: The authors suggest a few ways to reduce remediation levels, such as:
- Offering co-requisite courses to support students in remediation without setting them back; and
- Identifying specific student skill gaps and offering training in those, rather than requiring student to retake whole courses.
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3. Are your students taking at least nine credits in their specific fields of study?
The third and final success indicator the authors cite is "program momentum"—that is, the students' progress toward their specific majors in the first year—ideally, they say this should be nine out of fifteen credits in the first term.
If your answer is no: The report suggests focusing on helping students to choose a program of study early on.
Colleges that want to improve program momentum must "substantially strengthen supports that help entering students to explore college and career options and choose at least a broad field of study suited to their interests and aptitudes as soon as possible," the report urges (Baily/Jenkins, CCRC research brief, accessed 2/27).
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