"I Came in Unsure of Everything": Community College Students' Shifts in Confidence

Bickerstaff, Susan E.; Barragan, Melissa; Rucks-Ahidiana, Zawadi

To improve low rates of credential attainment in community colleges, individual schools as well as a number of national organizations have developed a range of initiatives focused on increasing rates of college completion and student success. Although the importance of non-academic factors in college completion and student success has been well established, questions remain about the best ways to structure the community college environment to foster students' sense of belonging and promote behaviors that are associated with success. This paper addresses this gap in the literature by focusing on the academic confidence of students at the outset of their community college careers, the ways in which their confidence may impact student behaviors and persistence, and how student confidence is affected by students' experiences in college. Using data from nearly 100 community college student interviews, this paper examines students' descriptions of their confidence upon entering college and of the shifts in confidence they experienced early in their college careers. Our findings suggest that student confidence is shaped in part by past academic experiences and expectations of college upon entry. Using student descriptions of their perceptions of college and of themselves, we describe the characteristics of students who describe themselves as self-assured and those who identify as apprehensive. The interview data reveal that student confidence is continually shifting as a result of interactions with peers, faculty, and others. Our analysis also indicates that academic confidence can impact student motivation and academic behaviors that are associated with success. Importantly, this paper identifies the nature of those experiences that positively reinforce student confidence, events that we term experiences of earned success. Finally, we describe ways to structure classroom and other on-campus environments to create opportunities for students to experience earned success and ultimately enhance their commitment to academic pursuits.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
CCRC Working Papers, 48
Published Here
October 8, 2012