Retention rates worry, push community colleges

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If current higher education trends continue, the current generation of college-age Americans will be less educated than their parents for the first time in U.S. history, according to a report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement. According to the study, 45 percent of students who enter community college earn a degree six years later and slightly more than 50 percent of first-time, full-time students in community colleges return for their second year. The authors surveyed more than 400,000 students at 658 institutions. To meet the challenge of graduating more students, the report recommends adding professional development opportunities for faculty, increasing student engagement in the classroom and making students more aware of support services. More high school graduates are pursuing higher education and more older workers are returning to school to sharpen their skills, bumping up enrollment in community colleges, said Arleen Arnsparger, program manager for the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Arnsparger said that this diversity brings widely differing goals and academic backgrounds into the colleges. “This puts enormous pressure on community colleges to accommodate the wide variation of student needs,” she said. College administrators are re-evaluating their data to formulate effective interventions such as including a wider range of subjects or having more internships and field experiences, Arnsparger said. Kay McClenney, a College of Education senior lecturer and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said changes such as integrated advising and revised policies, including more homework and tests, are critical to make students competitive in the contemporary job market. “Graduation rates are unacceptably low,” she said. “Colleges need to become the educational support that is necessary for people to succeed.”