AUSTIN, Texas—Results of a University of Texas at Austin survey of 92,000 community college students show that only about a quarter of students who intended to complete an associate degree or obtain a certificate at a community college did so in six years and that this may be due to the fact that the student body is remarkably diverse, “non-traditional” and multitasking.
According to this year’s Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) results, students reported spending a substantial amount of time working and meeting outside obligations while attending classes. About two thirds of two-year college students are enrolled part-time and 60 percent work more than 20 hours per week. About 20 percent spend six to 20 hours a week commuting to and from class and 33 percent have children who live with them. While survey results indicate that 53 percent of students say transfer to a four-year institution is their goal, national data show that only about 25 percent do so.
“These survey results underscore the challenges that community colleges face in engaging students,” said Dr. Kay McClenney, program director for the CCSSE. “Most community college students will continue to have to work, commute and address other demands on their time, and many may feel that abandoning their education is an easier path than completing it. Community colleges can meet these challenges but it will be by design and not by accident.”
Only 12 percent of full-time students reported spending 21 or more hours per week preparing for class and 68 percent of full-time students indicated they spend 10 or fewer hours per week studying, although 69 percent reported that their colleges encourage them to spend significant amounts of time studying either “quite a bit” or “very much.”
The survey also revealed that a large percentage of community college students are adults who may be returning to college to obtain extra credits in areas such as technology or get specialized training that will enhance employment opportunities. About 35 percent of community college students said they began their studies at another college, 14 percent attend more than one educational institution and 16 percent indicated they already have a degree.
“These issues are far from trivial,” said McClenney, “when in Texas alone a record 566,000 students are enrolled in community colleges, an increase of 40 percent from a decade ago. Nationally, almost half of the undergraduate students in public colleges and universities are enrolled in community colleges.”
The CCSSE, developed and administered by the Community College Leadership Program in the College of Education, compiled responses from 152 colleges in 30 states. In its fourth year now, the survey asks students about how they spend their time, what they feel they are gaining from their classes, how they assess the quality of interactions with faculty and what kinds of work they are challenged to complete.
The survey tool, which has been useful to colleges as a benchmarking instrument and monitoring device, reports findings on five key aspects of institutional performance:
- level of academic challenge;
- active and collaborative learning;
- student interactions with faculty members;
- enriching educational experiences; and
- supportive campus environment.
Survey results also showed that:
- 67 percent of students said their exams were relatively or extremely challenging
- 49 percent said they rarely or never use career-counseling services
- 45 percent said their college encouraged contact among students from diverse social, racial and ethnic backgrounds
- 29 percent reported having written four or fewer papers in a semester
- 22 percent said college helps them cope with nonacademic responsibilities.
The CCSSE is modeled after the National Survey of Student of Engagement, which surveys students at four-year institutions and makes a public report of the results available. Development and administration of the assessment tool have been supported by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lumina Foundation for Education and The Houston Endowment, Inc.