By Stuart Davis
Late fall means course withdrawal deadlines for many community college students across the country. Even the most well prepared student may encounter an unexpected academic, work, or personal challenge, and the withdrawal option offers a way to leave the course without serious penalty.
However, recent research shows that withdrawals, especially in critical gateway courses, can lead to stop outs from the college altogether. In fact, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) survey found that almost a quarter of enrolled community college students feel uncertain about re-enrolling at the college.
All Students Present Some Attrition Risk
Responses to CCSSE 2011 Survey Item: "When do you plan to take classes at this college again?"
In reality, that means that more than one-quarter of current students are at high risk of dropping out; even students who have plans to take classes within the next 12 months are at risk of mid-semester attrition due to:
- Academic difficulty
- Personal challenge
- Unanticipated life event
Lack of intervention may spur withdrawals
Community college students are more prone to early stop outs due to non-academic factors than four-year students, which are far more difficult to track and identify than academic behavior alone. Research by Completion by Design, a community college reform initiative, suggests that 40% of students who stop out or withdraw from college have an “A” or “B” grade point average.
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Unfortunately, the stop-out process at most colleges requires little effort; students can often drop off a form or press a few buttons on a computer to withdraw from the institution before faculty or student services staff have an opportunity to intervene.
“Cooling off period” allows for faculty intervention
At New Mexico Junior College, the faculty senate wanted to help reduce total withdrawals after reviewing course-level data across the college. These faculty leaders determined that they did not have timely information about students attempting to withdraw from their courses, especially those with grades above a “C”.
Their system only notified faculty after a student has fully withdrawn from their course. By that time, it was too late for the faculty member to intervene.
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The faculty senate and the administration worked together to redesign the withdrawal process. Now, students must wait 48-hours before they can officially withdraw from the course. During this “cooling off period,” the instructor receives an automatic notification of the student’s decision. They then have 48 hours to contact the student, identify the reason for the withdrawal, and connect students with resources and improvement plans.
With this approach to preventing withdrawals, the withdrawal rate decreased by over four percentage points in two years at New Mexico Junior College. It engages faculty members by giving them timely information and leverages their unique relationships with students to encourage progress to completion. Most students who choose not to withdraw successfully complete their courses.
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Preventing Early Attrition