How to boost student completion rates through existing campus resources

By Stuart Davis

While many community colleges invest millions of dollars in on-campus support programs and services as a way to improve completion rates, only a small percentage of students take advantage of available resources.

A study from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) in 2011 shows that while the vast majority of two-year colleges have built academic tutoring centers, student success courses, and first-year experience programs, less than half of students take advantage of these services.

Campus Services Fail to Recruit Participants
Results from 2011 CCSSE Survey


This discrepancy in utilization is a missed opportunity for community colleges to directly impact the completion rates of their students. After speaking with students, staff, and administrators, we surfaced three common barriers that prevent students from connecting with on-campus support services:

  • Options feel overwhelming: The average community college offers more than 200 student services, offices, special programs, and clubs.
  • Services easily dismissed: Students may self-identify as not needing additional support, especially to avoid social stigma of academic or financial assistance in front of peers.
  • Popularity amongst certain extracurriculars: Students may intentionally select extracurricular activities that appear easy or require minimal time investment, while seemingly time-intensive groups are often neglected.

Access 11 tools to promote student persistence

Intake survey identifies and pushes relevant resources

Mount Wachusett Community College encourages students to utilize on-campus services by understanding their needs and connecting with them early. Admissions staff created a new student intake survey that captures information about potential non-cognitive risk factors like family support, transportation, and financial literacy.

Steps to implement a new student intake survey

1. New students complete the survey during orientation at placement test centers. The answers to the 30-question survey form part of the student profile stored within their student information system (SIS).

2. Next, the assistant dean of student services leads a team to create a campus services referral matrix. This tool helps categorize student responses, so they can match students to applicable campus services and resources. Admissions staff notify students of the applicable services via SMS.

Related blog post: Learn more about "text nudging"

3. Rather than receive a list of 30-40 resources available to them, students receive customized invitations to participate in right-fit clubs, programs, and services.

Students who indicate a specific area of need on their intake survey (e.g., support caring for young children) receive personalized text nudges that proactively connect them to resources that would suit those specific needs (e.g., on-campus child care).

Since the inception of this intervention in 2013, Mount Wachusett’s fall-to-fall persistence rate of first-time, full-time students has increased by 20%. By utilizing a new student intake survey, this institution was able to understand the needs of individual students earlier and connect them with related resources on campus.

This is a preview of restricted content.

Full access to this content is reserved for Community College Executive Forum members. Log in now or learn more about Community College Executive Forum.

Next, Check Out

Preventing Early Attrition

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague