Characteristics of Early Community College Dropouts
Students who drop out of community college are expensive. Over a five-year period, federal, state, and local authorities spent about $4 billion on community college students who began as first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students but did not return for a second year of school (Schneider and Yin, 2011). In an era where the policy focus is on accountability and efficiency, improving first-year persistence is a critical goal. For colleges to develop effective dropout prevention strategies, it is necessary to have a clear picture of who these early dropouts are. This report aims to identify distinguishing characteristics of this group by analyzing six years of transcript data on 14,429 first-time college students who in 2005 and 2006 enrolled at one of five community colleges in a single state. Of these students, 28 percent never returned to the same college after their first semester. This outcome represents the most common enrollment and exit pattern among students in the sample—more students dropped out en masse after the first term than at any other time. The majority of these students never attended any college again. This analysis departs from other work on dropout and persistence in two important ways: It includes part-time students (who constitute a majority of first-time enrollees at community colleges), and it focuses on very early dropouts—those who enrolled for one term of study but never returned to the same college for another term. For the purposes of this report, these early dropouts are compared with a group called early persisters (67 percent of students in the sample)—those who enrolled at least twice in the first four enrollment terms (fall, spring, summer, and fall).
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