‘Success courses’ succeed in boosting retention

“Student success classes” are succeeding in improving retention rates, but some community colleges are resisting the trend, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Success classes typically teach study skills, time management and how to set goals and use college resources.  But, with resources running short, these courses can crowd out traditional academic classes. While success courses are “sometimes seen as a patronizing extension of high school,” most colleges award one to 3 credits.

“Research indicates that students who complete these courses are more likely to complete other courses, earn better grades, have higher overall GPAs and obtain degrees,” according to A Matter of Degrees, a report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

In Florida and Virginia, students who took a success course in their first semester earned more college credits and were more likely to return for a second year, a Community College Research Center study found.

At Tulsa Community College, students who take “Academic Strategies” are 20 percent more likely to remain enrolled and more likely to earn a C or better in future courses, reports Inside Higher Ed.  Durham Technical Community College reports a 30 percent increase in retention.

Community colleges often require remedial students to take success courses, but only 15 percent of community colleges require student success courses for all first-time students, the CCCSE report found. “We need to relinquish the reluctance to require,” said Kay McClenney, the center’s director.

Houston Community College is among the largest mandatory adopters among community colleges. All entering students who haven’t previously completed 12 college credits — about 12,000 students each fall — take one of five different student success courses during their first semester.

Three of the courses have a specific career focus – like engineering or health care – but all of them “are designed to orient students to the behaviors, expectations and rewards of college as well as support services,” according to the college’s website. Students must pick a major and file a degree plan after finishing the classes.

California community colleges should require a “success course, learning community or other support activity” for students who are poorly prepared for college, a task force recommends. However, there’s no consensus on whether all students should take such a course.