EdSurge Research

Measuring Up: How Community Colleges Define, Measure and Support Student Success

Measuring Up: How Community Colleges Define, Measure and Support Student Success

Community colleges have been referred to as “America’s best-kept secret,” often operating as unbound engines for developing and training workforces, synced to the needs of the regions they serve. From tech to manufacturing, community colleges are partnering with local businesses to cultivate the skills that graduates need for the millions of jobs that need to be filled.

Although community colleges continue to be a lever to promote upward mobility, their achievements are less obvious when you look at federally reported graduation rates. By that measure, community colleges have stagnated at disappointingly low levels—24 percent for students entering public, two-year institutions in 2013.

But this raises a crucial question: Should completion be the barometer of success for community college students when their educational journeys look markedly different than those of their peers at four-year institutions? Some community college students, for example, want to complete the foundational courses they need to transfer to a selective university. Others want to skill up to improve their employment prospects.

Over the past six months, the EdSurge Research team has been exploring how community colleges define student success, what indicators they track and analyze as progress toward completion and what role technology plays in monitoring progress indicators for every student.

This guide includes a report that synthesizes findings from information we gathered through phone interviews and survey data, along with a chart showing common categories of student success initiatives and a collection of stories highlighting the unique approaches community colleges employ to support students along their varied paths to success.

—Alex Sigillo, Guide Editor

This EdSurge Research guide is made publicly available with support from Macmillan Learning, an educational solutions and insights provider. EdSurge retains sole editorial control and responsibility for the content in this guide. All stories, opinions, beliefs and findings published in this guide were generated independently by EdSurge. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Categorizing Student Success Initiatives

Community colleges increasingly are realizing that no single approach to student success can address the varied interests, needs and goals of their students. Rather, it takes a combination of student success solutions—a synthesis of practices, technology and data—to move the needle for each student. Through our conversations with community college leaders, we were able to identify and categorize the types of programs and initiatives they implement to support students on their individual paths to success.

Initiative Type Description Examples
Institutional Initiatives that are implemented across the entire student body, or start with an incoming class and expand to the entire student body. 1. Guided pathways

2. Mandatory orientation session

3. Surveys to assess student
aspirations and career goals

Initiatives that support students within specific programs of study. 1. Engineering students placed in a developmental math course receive supplemental instruction

2. A learning community for students interested in nursing
Population-Supporting Initiatives that are crafted in support of an identified set of students based on demographic or academic characteristics (E.g., minority students or students with a GPA below 2.0). 1. Mentorship programs to support male minority students

2. Mandatory tutoring sessions for athletes
Parameter-Dependent Initiatives that encourage or require students to participate in student success efforts based on a certain set of parameters. 1. Students living off-campus are encouraged to enroll in a commuter benefits program

2. Students identified with work-life responsibilities are encouraged to enroll in a college-readiness course
Scaling Up Initiatives that are driven to improve the delivery of existing student success efforts. 1. Updating how to deliver remedial education

2. Shifting advising practices so every student gets one dedicated advisor

3. Changing to block scheduling

Categorization Credit: Philip Needles, VP of Student Services at Montgomery County Community College.

Stories of Student Success Initiatives

These stories highlight the unique approaches community colleges are implementing to support students on their respective paths to success—from using text messages to connect students to mental health services and providing a children's book section in community college libraries, to rebounding from a potential school closure.

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