October 19, 2007

How To Be Successful in Community College

Facts and Tips For First Year Students

By Anne Driscoll
New America Media

Recent research suggests that a student’s first college academic experiences are critical in increasing their chances of transferring to a four-year college. The number and type of courses that students take in their first semester, and the grades they earn are also important in determining their chances of transferring.

Community colleges enroll the vast majority of the state’s post-secondary students; in 2005, 756,000 full-time students were enrolled in community colleges.

California’s economic well-being depends on an educated workforce. Many of these workers must come from the ranks of community college students. The community colleges thus play an important role in the economic success of the state.

Most high school graduates who first attend community college originally aspire to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Yet one quarter do not return for the spring semester and only a slight majority of those who return still aspire to transfer to a four-year college. Overall, 41.3 percent transferred to a four-year college within six years. This figure varied by race and ethnicity; one-third of African Americans and Latinos transferred as did 44.2 percent of whites and 52.6 percent of Asians.

Those who take more transfer courses and who do well in those courses in their first semester are more likely to stay in college and eventually transfer to a four-year college. In contrast, students who take fewer transfer courses and get lower grades are far less likely to persist in their goals and in school.

This is true for all racial and ethnic groups, but transfer rates are highest for Asians and lowest among African Americans and Latinos, even among students who take a full course load and earn high grades during their first semester. About six in 10 whites and Latinos who carried a full course load of transfer courses went on to transfer, as did just under half of Latinos and blacks. Among part-time students, the proportion who transferred was significantly lower for each group; just under half of Asians, just over one third of whites and three in 10 Latinos and African Americans eventually transferred.

A similar pattern was found when students who earned at least a 3.0 GPA in their first semester transfer courses were compared to those with lower grades. This pattern suggests that students who are better prepared academically when they arrive in community college and those who can attend school full-time are more likely to be successful in realizing their goal of transferring to a four-year college.

The full report is available online at the PACE Web site (http://pace.berkeley.edu/reports/PB.07-2.pdf).

10 Tips for First Year Community College Students

1) Think long term: Don’t wait to start thinking about where you will transfer. Research potential schools and programs that you might be interested in. Once you have identified a program or school that you want to go to, you can join a mentorship program where you link up with current students at that school.

2) Create a plan with your goals in mind: Begin taking classes and completing the general requirements that correspond to the school that you want to end up in. This will help you to avoid taking classes that you don’t need. This will ultimately help you to save time and money.

3) Visit the Student Transfer Center: All community colleges should have transfer centers on campus. This center will help you to identify schools that admit transfer students, or that has special agreements with your community college. Additionally, the center will help you to navigate through individual schools’ admission requirements.

4) Don’t wait on finding financial aid: Scholarships, grants and loans can help alleviate the stress of going to school. Visit the financial aid office as soon as possible to see what funds you qualify for.

5) Develop a relationship with an academic counselor: Look on a school directory to find the location of your school’s academic counseling center. These centers can most often be found near the administration offices. It is important that you work with a counselor who you feel comfortable talking with. A good counselor will take the time to thoroughly answer all your questions and will direct you to outside resources such as tutoring, if necessary. You may come into contact with a counselor that does not understand your specific needs. If this happens, it is a good idea to go back to the counseling office for a second opinion. When you find a counselor you feel comfortable with, request to work with them each time you go in.

6) Get your records in order: When going to receive help, it is crucial that you bring all related documents. Call the office ahead of time to ask them which documents you will need to bring with you. Examples of necessary documents include tax records, W-2 form, identification and transcripts.

7) Make grades a priority: You can set yourself up for good grades by taking classes that interest you. You may enter college not knowing what area of study you want to focus on. One of the benefits of starting at a city college is that it is a fraction of the cost of all other schools. Use this first year as an opportunity to explore. Easing into school will ensure that you have the time and focus towards achieving the high grade.

8) Take classes that satisfy requirements: The most efficient way to choose your first year class schedule is to begin by taking classes that satisfy general education requirements. Keep in mind that requirements vary depending on the college or university that you want to transfer to.

9) Talk to your professors: Make yourself recognizable and show interest in class. Your professors can help you narrow down a career path. A great way to talk with professors is by visiting their posted office hours.

10) Talk to your peers: Your fellow students may turn out to be your best resource. Getting to know other students in and outside of classes will allow you to create a network where you can share resources, ideas, and experiences. If you are not very social, ask your counselor about getting set up with a mentor on campus.

Anne K. Driscoll is a senior research scientist at the School of Education, University of California, Davis, and is the author of a new report entitled “Beyond Access: How the First Semester Matters for Community College Students’ Aspirations and Persistence.

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