Lingerers in the Community College
Many community college students fail to graduate. Even among those students who enroll for a substantial period of time and who earn a significant number of college credits, many fail to complete an award. To improve completion rates in community colleges, administrators may want to focus attention on this group of students we call “lingerers.” Compared with other students, such as those who drop out early in their college careers, lingerers demonstrate persistence and a strong intention to complete a college program, yet they do not earn an award. This result is costly both for the students and the colleges they attend. In this analysis, we examine the following questions: What are the characteristics of lingerers in community college? How do their course-taking behaviors differ from those of students who complete an award? What prevents them from completing? Our analysis is based on extensive unit record data on cohorts of students at nine community colleges in three states. The data include information on student demographics, course enrollment and performance, credential completion, and transfer. We track students for up to five academic years. The data used in this analysis are from the 2005–06 first-time-in-college (FTIC) student cohort at these nine colleges. Credit students (i.e., those students who either placed into or enrolled in developmental education or those who either placed into or enrolled in college-level coursework) constituted 36 percent of the full FTIC sample. We limit our study to this subset of credit students in order to restrict our analysis to students who were mostly likely to earn an award or transfer to a four-year college. As a result, the full sample used in our analysis is 27,713 students. We define lingerers as students in the sample who completed 30 or more college-level semester credits and were still enrolled in the same community college in their fifth year but who had not yet earned a credential. About 9 percent of students in our sample were lingerers. We also make comparisons with “completers,” students who earned an associate degree at the community college within five years. About 6 percent of students in our sample were completers.
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