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
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 SEMINAR
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
LEARNING ASSISTANCE CENTERS (LAC)
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
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
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.
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