Center for Community College Student Engagement

The University’s Center for Community College Student Engagement in the College of Education released a report aimed at improving completion rates of community colleges, such as Austin Community College.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

A recent University report aimed to find which practices could increase the rate of course completion among students who enroll in a two-year college. Of these students, 54 percent either receive a degree, earn a certificate or are still enrolled six years later.

The report, developed by the Center for Community College Student Engagement in the College of Education, revealed 13 “high impact” practices that would help raise the current percentage of completion, including supplemental instruction, tutoring, learning communities and structured academic goal setting and planning.

Titled “A Matter of Degrees: Practices to Pathways,” the report was the final piece of a three-year study conducted by the center and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Lumina foundations. Evelyn Waiwaiole, the center’s director, said the study was intended to improve the student experience as a whole, in addition to closing the gap between students who enroll in classes and students who complete them.

According to Waiwaiole, many colleges offer the suggested “high impact” practices, but not as many students are taking advantage of such resources. 

“While increasing numbers of institutions are offering such practices, only small numbers of colleges require them, and far too few students are participating in them,”
Waiwaiole said.

Developmental education students who take student success courses are five times more likely to complete a developmental English course, but only 25 percent of students are taking advantage of the resource, Waiwaiole said. 

Waiwaiole also said that although fiscal resources are limited for community colleges, many of the practices — such as a required attendance policy — do not require much funding. 

“Colleges are being asked to do more with less,” Waiwaiole said. “But some of the practices discussed above are relatively low cost.”

Kay McClenney, a College of Education professor and director of the Center, speaks about the downsides to hiring part-time faculty in community colleges, on Wednesday. Colleges are only tied to part-time faculty for the current academic year, providing less motivation for teachers to put in extra effort with students beyond required class time.   

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

Community colleges’ increasing use of part-time faculty to teach courses may have a negative impact on students, according to a report published Monday by UT’s Center for Community College Student Engagement.

According to the report, to deal with declines in state funding while remaining affordable to students, community colleges have increasingly moved to hiring part-time faculty because the colleges have no fiscal obligation to them beyond the current academic term. The report said part-time faculty, often known as contingent faculty, typically have lower pay levels and fewer, if any, benefits than full-time faculty.

This low transactional relationship between institutions and part-time faculty creates few incentives for teachers to help students beyond their designated class times, according to Kay McClenney, a College of Education professor and director of the center. McClenney said contingent faculty also lack the resources or room space needed to hold office hours.

“Student-faculty interaction is extremely important to students,” McClenney said. “If [faculty] are marginalized in some ways, their students are going to be short-changed as well.”

Courtney Adkins, adjunct professor at Austin Community College and assistant director of the center, said one of the biggest challenges she has faced as a part-time faculty member has been limited accessibility to her students.

“I think relationships are central to a community college student’s success,” Adkins said. “Because I normally only teach in the evenings, I don’t feel that I make as strong of a connection to students as I could if I were on campus more.”

Adkins said ACC has created a mentor program between newer adjuncts and long-term adjunct faculty to make it easier for part-time faculty to be aware of the resources the community college offers.

“There have been times over the years when I knew a student needed assistance out of the classroom, whether it be with tutoring services, financial aid services, advising services, etc., and I haven’t always known where to direct him or her,” Adkins said. “Having a name of someone I could contact to ask those sorts of questions is a great help.”

Nicholas Ward, a history senior who has attended both Lone Star Community College in Houston and ACC, said he did not need to attend office hours until coming to UT.

“At Lonestar, 90 percent of the classes were about the equivalent of a high school level class,” Ward said. “You could usually talk to [professors] after class if you had a question.”

According to McClenney, close to two-thirds of the the students who enter community colleges are not prepared to succeed academically. McClenney said institutions need to expect effective teaching practices from faculty to enable students to excel in college.

“Higher expectations need to be part of the job description,” McClenney said. “No one rises to low expectations.”

Latino graduation rates and college engagement will be a new focus of the College of Education after The Kresge Foundation and the Greater Texas Foundation awarded the program two grants totaling $437,000. 

The research will aim to develop an action plan to address the low transfer-rate of Latino students from community colleges to four-year universities and the challenges Latino students face when they transfer. The research will be conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration and will analyze data from CCCSE surveys and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

Kay McClenney, the director of the CCCSE, said all students face challenges when they transfer from community colleges to four-year universities but those challenges are “exacerbated with subgroups of students who are more likely to be first-generation college students, more likely to have graduated from high schools with inadequate counseling support, [and] more likely to rely on financial aid.”

McClenney also said Latinos face additional problems when they transfer to universities that are less ethnically diverse than their community colleges.
“Attention needs to be paid to matters involving cultural heritage and identity, so that students can quickly come to feel that they are socially, as well as educationally, connected with their college,” McClenney said. 

While the CCCSE and the NSSE have been providing universities and community colleges with data for years on these issues, this latest project increases the emphasis on pairs of universities and community colleges between which many students transfer.
Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the College of Education and the director of the Texas Center for Education Policy, said it is important to identify the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap” rooted in underpriviledged circumstances. Valenzuela and McClenney both identified financial circumstances and poor schools earlier in Latino students’ lives as causes for this gap. 

Biology senior Daniel McFarlane, Transfer Student Association president, said the transition to the University is a “complete culture shock” for transfer students.

“It’s like going from 13th grade to an entirely different world,” McFarlane said. 

McClenney emphasized the importance of the research saying that the issue needed serious attention. 

“In Texas, our future — in terms of both fiscal prosperity and societal health — truly depends on our commitment to ensure that much larger numbers of Latino students progress successfully through the public school system, through the community colleges and on to completion of a baccalaureate degree,” McClenney said. 

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.”