Elevating Faculty Voices on Community College Student Success

Public Agenda

Educating students is no longer the only role that community college faculty members are tasked with as part of their job description. They are increasingly forced to wear multiple hats and function more as advisors to their students and as support staff for administrators, helping them to craft strategies to improve graduation rates.

In a move to better understand how these growing responsibilities impact educators and students at community colleges, Public Agenda, in partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College (the League), administered a survey in 2015 to community college faculty to get a better grasp of their views on student success and the practices they are using to help more students succeed.  The survey is a part of the League’s Faculty Voices Project, which looks to incorporate community college faculty members in the national discussion about the roles faculty play in contributing to student success.

We surveyed nearly 700 full-time and more than 300 part-time community college faculty members from across the United States. Our goal was to highlight faculty members’ roles in student success and to increase awareness of their concerns in the higher education sector.

What helps a student succeed?

Faculty members reported that “clarifying for students which courses are required to complete each certificate and degree program or to transfer” was the most highly-rated practice that helped students complete their degree or transfer. Although clarifying for students which courses are required to complete their degree or certificate was the practice faculty most commonly cited as being used at their colleges, previous research indicates that such clarity is in fact too rare.

According to research conducted by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) in 2013, community colleges rarely provide students with direction on degree programs or with guidance for completing the program in a timely fashion. Consequently, students are left to figure out a complex system on their own without help from administrators, which leaves room for missteps that ultimately delay graduation.

Communication Breakdown

 The results of the survey compared to CCRC’s previous research suggest a disconnect between faculty’s perception and reality. While community college faculty may understand that clarity about courses and degree requirements is important, the reality is that this support is rarely provided to the students.  Students need guidance from colleges to ensure a clear and timely path to graduation; however, they are often left alone to figure it out themselves.

This disconnect is a chief driver of current work — referred to as the guided pathways movement — focused on creating clear paths to success for students. Researchers from the Community College Research Center have found that guided pathways initiatives offer, “highly structured student experiences encourage completion by:

  • Establishing clear roadmaps to students’ end goals that include articulated learning; outcomes and direct connections to the requirements for further education and career advancement;
  • Incorporating intake processes that help students clarify goals for college and careers;
  • Offering on-ramps to programs of study designed to facilitate access for students with developmental education needs; and
  • Embedding advising, progress tracking, feedback, and support throughout a student’s educational journey.”

These practices can help institutions bridge the disconnect that we so often see at community colleges around the country.  Our survey findings above offer insight on how community college faculty around the country can help students navigate a clear path to completion.

Survey findings above are a powerful tool for faculty and administrators around the country to help make the case for clearer paths for student completion. This is a win-win for faculty, administrators, policy makers and especially for students.

Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in New York City. By elevating a diversity of voices, forging common ground and improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities, Public Agenda fuels progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on February 27, 2018.