Get with the Program: Accelerating Community College Students' Entry into and Completion of Programs of Study
Most students who enter higher education through a community college fail to earn a postsecondary credential. One reason for this that has not received enough attention is that many students do not enter a college-level program of study. Many new students arrive at community colleges without clear goals for college and careers. Community colleges offer a wide array of programs but typically provide little guidance to help students choose and successfully enter a program of study. Community college departments often do not closely monitor the progress of students who do enter their programs to ensure that they complete. This paper, originally released in April 2011, presents a simple method that community colleges can use to measure rates of program entry and completion using data on students' actual course-taking behaviors rather than declared major or intent. This method is used to track the progress and outcomes of first-time college students over five years using data from an anonymous sample of community colleges. The analysis shows that it is essential for students to enter a program of study as soon as possible. Students who do not enter a program within a year of enrollment are far less likely to ever enter a program and therefore less likely to earn a credential. The paper offers suggestions for ways community colleges can rethink their practices at key stages of students' engagement to substantially increase rates of program entry and completion.
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