How To Improve Student Retention in Community Colleges

Group of students

Community colleges across the country struggle with the issue of student retention.  While community colleges provide affordable and readily accessible education, many of the students attending community colleges are not prepared for college.  In addition, many students face additional challenges such as inadequate financial resources, and family and job demands.  Community colleges can increase student retention by implementing a number of programs.

  1. Recruitment Programs - Retention begins with recruitment.  Students need information in order to make informed choices.  In many instances this is a student's first college experience and they need information in order to successfully navigate the admissions process.  They also need information early on in order to understand the choices they will have to make in choosing classes, majors and other activities.  Making the initial contact with the school an enjoyable one starts a student off on the right foot.
  2. Assessment Programs - Initial assessment programs are necessary for proper placement of students in appropriate classes.  Many incoming community college students lack skills necessary for success in college-level courses.  Assessment tests allow for placement in appropriate courses.  This helps prevent students from becoming discouraged.  Appropriate placement increases success and improves retention.
  3. Orientation Programs - Well-developed orientation programs help increase student retention and success.  These programs help prevent disappointment down the road.  Successful orientation programs include familiarizing students with the services available and showing them how to locate these services.  Orientation programs should include introductions to key staff members such as financial aid officers, special program directors and tutoring staff.  A well-conceived orientation program will also provide information about student organizations such as student government, honor societies and athletic activities.  Successful orientation programs will also assist the students in developing a plan for academic success, improving student retention.
  4. Learning Support Programs - Inadequate preparation for college is a significant factor in student retention.  While assessment programs are intended to place students in appropriate courses, many students require additional assistance for success.  This assistance can come through learning support programs.  Learning assistance labs, study groups, one-on-one tutoring and student success workshops have all been shown to improve student retention rates.
  5. Faculty/Student Programs- The development of faculty-student relationships can also increase student retention at community colleges.  One-on-one advising with a faculty member provides students with individualized attention.  This allows for proper course choices.  Student interaction with faculty also encourages academic success.  In addition to advising, mentoring programs between faculty and students also increases retention. 
  6. Learning Communities - Placement of students in learning communities helps students build a peer network, which improves student retention.  In learning communities students register for a block of classes together.  This creates a shared educational experience.  Supportive peer groups encourage classroom excellence and assistance outside the classroom in the form of study groups and support networks.
  7. Peer Mentoring - Peer mentoring programs provide students with encouragement from fellow students.  Students can be excellent role models and are exceptionally qualified to help other students.  While students may be uncomfortable speaking to staff or faculty, peer mentors may be viewed as less "threatening."   Peer mentoring programs also increases interaction with other students which assists in retention.
  8. Internship/Co-op Programs - Many community college students have financial and career concerns.  Internship and co-op programs make the connection between the classroom and the workplace.  These programs encourage academic excellence and retention as the students can see the result of their hard work.  These programs may lead to full-time employment upon graduation (or part-time employment during college), easing some of the financial concerns that affect retention.


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