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Many Community College Students Are Not Prepared for College-Level Work, Report Shows

A majority of community college students arrive underprepared for college-level work, do not reach their educational goals, according to new report.

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AUSTIN, Texas — A majority of community college students are underprepared for college-level work, are not successful in developmental or remedial coursework, and do not reach their educational goals, according to a report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, only 39 percent of community college students earn a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree within six years.

Students studying

Photo via CCCSE

“Expectations Meet Reality: The Underprepared Student and Community Colleges” describes the experience of community college students in the areas of assessment, placement and developmental education.

The data in the report were collected from more than 70,000 community college student respondents across 150 institutions and more than 4,500 community college faculty respondents from 56 institutions.

Among the data highlighted in the report:

  • Eighty-seven percent of students report being required to take a placement test to assess their skills. These tests determine their placement in college-level or remedial coursework, yet there has been relatively little research investigating whether such exams are valid for their purpose, or whether other measures of preparedness might be equally or more effective.

  • Eighty-six percent of students believe they are academically prepared to succeed in college, but 67 percent require developmental or remedial coursework, including 40 percent of students reporting a high school GPA equivalent to an A. Students do not earn college credit for developmental coursework.

  • More than half of faculty members use some form of early assessment to determine their students’ preparedness, but upon finding students underprepared, only 6 percent of faculty members recommend that they change courses.

Nationally, changes are taking place with methods of assessment, placement and the delivery of developmental coursework, but at present these new approaches affect only small numbers of students.

One such approach featured in the report is corequisite remediation, in which students taking a developmental class concurrently enroll in a higher-level class, a model that the report’s authors say accelerates progression through the developmental sequence. Students who report being enrolled in corequisite English and math courses have higher engagement scores across all five Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) benchmarks. Although the data are promising, the number of respondents enrolled in these types of courses varies widely across colleges.

“ ‘Expectations Meet Reality’ describes what is, and the innovative work featured in the report describes where we can be,” says Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. “The bridge between developmental education and student success must be shortened. Redesigning the educational pathway for all students needs to be an urgent priority for colleges.”

The center is a research and service initiative of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.