“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else,” advised Yogi Berra.
Community college students get lost — and drop out — unless they figure out quickly where they want to go, researchers warn.
“Many new students arrive at community colleges without clear goals for college and careers,” write Davis Jenkins and Sung-Woo Chu, researchers at the Community College Research Center of Teachers College, Columbia University. “It is essential for students to enter a program of study as soon as possible.”
A program of study could be classes leading to a vocational certificate, an associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution.
Unfortunately, many new students have to find their way on their own. Only 38 percent of entering community college students said an advisor helped them set academic goals and create a plan for achieving them, in the Community College Survey on Student Engagement.
Some community colleges are trying to get students on track early.
First-time-in-college students at Tallahassee Community College begin working on an Individual Learning Plan during orientation, then attend a mandatory advising workshop during the first term. Students remain in mandatory advising until they complete half their plan with a C average or better.
“Goals+Plans = Success” is the motto at Century College in Minnesota. The GPS LifePlan web site helps students set goals and develop plans for their education, careers, finance, leadership, and personal development. In addition, GPS planning is part of the New Student Seminar and other introductory courses.
New students are more likely to enroll for a second and third semester, an independent evaluation found. As a result, GPS is spreading to other Minnesota colleges.
California students should develop an academic plan by the end of their first year, the Community College Student Success Task Force recommends. Students with a plan would get enrollment priority, as long as they make progress. Those who fail too many classes or accumulate lots of credits without earning a degree would go to the end of the registration line and lose fee waivers.
“Policies that enable students to wander around the curriculum, withdraw and repeat classes multiple times, avoid services that could steer them along a productive pathway, and accumulate an unlimited number of units are a disservice to enrolled students and to those who can’t get into the system for lack of available classes,” the task force report said.
Students won’t get time to explore their “intellectual horizons,” wrote Jim Miller, who teaches at San Diego City College, and Jonathan McLeod, who teaches at San Diego Mesa College, in a letter to fellow instructors printed in the LaMesa Patch. “Woe to the career tech student who might venture to take a course in geography, philosophy, or fine arts! What is the utility of radiation technology or mathematics students enrolling in political science to learn about legislative processes or the impact of free-trade agreements on the national economy and labor force demand?”
With one counselor for every 1,000 students, California’s community colleges aren’t prepared to guide students, many critics warn.
Student advising is “abysmal,” wrote Jenkins and two CCRC colleagues in the Sacramento Bee.
“Entering community college students are confronted with a bewildering array of choices and poor information about available programs, their requirements, and the career and transfer options they lead to. Left alone to navigate this daunting system, it is little wonder that many students flail about, accruing credits while coming no closer to earning a credential – or simply dropping out.”
Low-income students, often the first in their family to attend college, have the hardest time figuring out the system, they write.
California’s ever-worsening budget crisis makes it unlikely community colleges will be able to hire more advisors.