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ERIC Identifier: ED477911
Publication Date: 2003-02-00
Author: Chaves, Christopher A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.

Student Involvement in the Community College Setting. ERIC Digest.

American community colleges, urban ones in particular, face unique challenges with their first-generation, immigrant, economically disadvantaged, non-White, and limited English ability students (Hirose-Wong, 1999). Moreover, many traditional and non-traditional students alike are inadequately prepared, academically and psychologically, for college-level work and learning (Howell, 2001). These challenges can be exacerbated by students' failure to connect and become involved in college at the level necessary for academic and workplace success, herein defined as successful completion of required course work.

Astin (1984) defines involvement as "the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience" (p. 134). According to Tinto (1997), high levels of student involvement generally proved to be an independent predictor of gains in learning. Tinto (1987) posits that achieving success in student retention generally "hinges on the construction of educational communities in college, program, and classroom level which integrate students into the ongoing social and intellectual life of the institution" (p. 188). In the community college setting, a redefinition of what constitutes "involvement" is necessary, primarily because this non-residential constituency usually works at least part-time and, as a consequence, finds it difficult to become involved in traditional campus activities. This digest discusses three student involvement opportunities - freshmen orientation, learning resource centers, and community college learning communities - that can be critical for students' academic success.


Freshman orientation programs are a proven method to assist in raising students' levels of academic performance, retention, and degree program completion. Cuseo (1997) provides a comprehensive taxonomy of major topics that should be included in an effective student-centered freshman seminar, including the college experience, academic skill development, academic and career planning, and life management.

In her review of studies of retention, Brawer (1996) reported findings from a study conducted at four North Carolina community colleges indicating that involvement in a freshman orientation course improved student performance regardless of race, age, gender, major, employment status, or entrance exam scores. Brawer further noted a study at Valencia Community College in Florida, where an extended orientation course provides comprehensive learning assistance during the critical freshmen year. The results indicated that between 1987 and 1992, 81% of students enrolling in the extended orientation course succeeded in passing their first-term courses, compared with only 56% of those students who enrolled in other college preparatory courses. After four academic terms, 65% of the students enrolled in the extended orientation course persisted as enrolled students. Additionally, a study of students who participated in a freshman orientation seminar at Sacramento Community College in California completed courses at a 50% higher rate than those students who had not participated (Barefoot, 1993).


Continued comprehensive learning assistance is necessary to help students manage the academic demands placed upon them. Maxwell (1997) identifies the 14 academic and co-curricular activities offered by LACs. They include academic evaluation and diagnostic testing, programs to improve study skills, peer tutoring; supplemental instruction, computer assisted instruction, remedial courses, faculty outreach services, contact with college faculty, contact with college administrators, ongoing staff development/certification, referral services, counseling, advising, and program evaluation through surveys and questionnaires.

According to Enright (1997), LACs create a "sense of place" for the non-traditional student and assist in boosting student retention. The following two examples describe pertinent activities of successful LACs. At Allegheny Community College in Maryland, student involvement activities include a freshman seminar designed to achieve connection between students and faculty members; a college-funded, on-campus work-study program; a women's center designed to provide assistance specifically to non-traditional female students; the establishment of more student organizations; and a faculty development program (Brawer, 1996). At Bronx Community College in New York, student services professionals offer the Freshmen Year Initiative Program (FYIP), a comprehensive academic and counseling service for first-semester students who require assistance in English, reading, and mathematics. The FYIP offers the Freshmen Outreach, Caring, Understanding, and Support (FOCUS) Center; in concert with other assistance programs, this center is a holistic counseling center designed to provide confidential help with individual, developmental, vocational, academic, and social problems via counseling interviews, psychological assessment, and pertinent educational and occupational data. Preliminary results indicated that between fall 1993 and fall 1994, FYIP participants persisted at a rate of 76.5%, compared to non-participants (59.3%) (Baron, 1997).

LACs can also create a sense of involvement and community through methods that also incorporate computer technology, collaborative learning, and collective learning (Enright, 1997). For instance, supplemental instruction (SI) programs afford students who have done exceptionally well in a difficult course to re-enroll in the same course for the purpose of undertaking a leadership role. The SI student leader serves as a model learner, who completes all assignments, takes class notes, and takes required exams along with other students in class. Research indicates that students participating in SI programs earn higher average scores, compared with non-SI students of equal ability (Levitz, 1990).


According to Kellogg (1999), learning communities can be any form of curricular design that links together existing courses to enable subgroups of students and their teachers to achieve a deeper understanding and integration of the course material. Common learning community models include freshmen interest groups, linked courses, learning clusters, and federated learning communities. At Long Beach City College in California, faculty and administrators created the Students and Teachers Achieving Results (STAR) program to increase the academic success and retention rates of underrepresented students (Mackay et al., 1996). The STAR program links courses designed to (1) develop effective communication skills, (2) build self-esteem, (3) leverage faculty expertise, and (4) utilize interdisciplinary and cooperative learning models.

Academic-occupational integration (AOI) is another learning community model. Perin (2001) defines AOI as "the fusion of reading, writing, English language, math and/or critical thinking skills with career related instruction" (p. 305). There are five AOI models, including linked courses, known as paired or tandem courses; course clusters, also characterized as learning communities; infused occupational courses, which offer writing instruction within an occupational course; infused academic courses, which use occupational themes to teach academic courses; and hybrid courses, which are single courses that incorporate occupational and academic content. One of the major benefits of AOI is said to be that it is a student-centered instructional method that emphasizes literacy skills for the workplace. Example AOI models include one located at a community college in an urban northeastern city with a large immigrant population that linked an intermediate course in ESL with Introduction to Computers for business students and another located at a urban midwestern city that offered a course cluster for nursing students entitled, "Introduction to Healthcare: Nursing, Philosophy, and College Composition."


Community colleges will continue to educate a unique group of traditional and non-traditional students. Many of the students the colleges serve are unprepared for college-level academics and require assistance and involvement opportunities to successfully achieve their academic goals. Since an increasing number of community college students must work full-time or can only attend classes part-time, finding the opportunity to connect and become involved in the college environment is a continuing challenge.

At the community college, effective involvement occurs when students participate in orientation programs, receive on-going academic assistance, and experience a curriculum that connects classroom requirements to workplace relevance and skills. If community colleges are to involve their students effectively, a focus on serving them through a variety of activities such as those discussed here can lead to the kind of critical engagement necessary for improved learning and retention.


Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel.

Barefoot, B. O. (Ed.) (1993). Exploring the evidence: Reporting outcomes of freshman seminars. Monograph series No. 11. National Resource Center for The Freshman Year Experience. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.

Baron, W. (1997). The Problem of student retention: The bronx community college solution -The freshmen year initiative program. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 409 971).

Brawer, F. B. (1996). Retention-attrition in the nineties. ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 393 510).

Cuseo, J.B. (1997). Freshmen orientation seminar at the community college: A research-based rationale for its value, content, and delivery. Unpublished manuscript. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 411 005).

Enright, G (1997). LACR, LRC, and developmental education: An orientation for the beginning learning center professional. In S. Mioduski and G. Enright's (eds.) Preceedings for the 15th and 16th Annual Institutes For Learning Assistance Professionals: 1994 and 1995. Tucson, AZ: University Learning Center, University of Arizona.

Hirose-Wong, S. M. (1999). Gateways to democracy: six urban community college systems. ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 438 873).

Howell, C. L. (2001). Facilitating responsibility for learning in adult community college students. ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 451 841).

Kellogg, K. (1999). Learning communities. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 430 512).

Levitz, R. (1990). Supplemental instruction takes off. Recruitment and Retention Newsletter, (November), p.7.

Mackay, J. et al (1996). Establishing a learning community for community college students: STAR-students and teachers achieving results. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 393 514).

Maxwell, M. (1997). What are the functions of a college learning assistance center? Unpublished manuscript. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 413 031).

Perin, D. (2001). Academic-occupational integration as a reform strategy for the community college: classroom perspectives. Teacher's College Record, Vol. 103, No. 2, April. Teacher's College, Columbia University.

Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: exploring the educational character of student persistence. Journal of Higher Education, Nov-Dec, Vol. 68, No. 6, p 599.


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