Not Just Math and English: Courses That Pose Obstacles to Community College Completion
Discussions of the barriers to completion in community colleges have largely focused on student success in introductory college-level math and English courses, and rightfully so, since these courses are typically required for degrees. However, there is a much broader range of courses that also serve as “gatekeepers” in the sense that they are obstacles to completion. This paper offers methods for identifying these courses and for assessing the relative extent of the obstacle to completion each of them poses. We compare the performance in these courses of students who successfully completed a credential with those who did not. We find that the difficulty students experience in succeeding in many other introductory courses is just as great as that posed by college math and English. If colleges want to reduce impediments to graduation, they therefore need to look at a broader range of courses than just math and English and devise strategies for improving student achievement in these courses as well. We also find that overall GPA in college courses is a stronger predictor of completion than performance in any one course. This suggests that colleges need to monitor students’ overall performance to identify those who are in danger of not completing and design academic and non-academic interventions to help them succeed. Conversely, colleges need also to identify students who did well in these obstacle courses but have dropped out, so that they can encourage them to continue. It also suggests that remedial instruction, which is typically focused on math and English, should be rethought and its scope broadened.
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