The Shapeless River: Does a Lack of Structure Inhibit Students' Progress at Community Colleges?
For many students at community colleges, finding a path to degree completion is the equivalent of navigating a shapeless river on a dark night—but very few studies have explicitly examined the role of structure in student persistence. This Brief summarizes a Working Paper that examined the role of structure in influencing student persistence in community colleges. The author integrates previously disconnected evidence and draws on ideas from behavioral economics and psychology to consider the structure hypothesis: that community college students will be more likely to persist and succeed in programs that are tightly and consciously structured, with relatively little room for individuals to unintentionally deviate from paths toward completion, and with limited bureaucratic obstacles for students to circumnavigate. Evidence suggests that the lack of structure in many community colleges is likely to result in less-than-optimal decisions by students about whether and how to persist toward a credential. Though there is no silver-bullet intervention to address this problem, this Brief highlights several promising approaches and suggests directions for future experimentation and research.
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