Report: Structural, Motivational Barriers Undermine Community College Grad Rates

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Helping community college students select courses suited to their interests and finding ways to connect classroom lessons with the real world could help more students persist in higher education, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

“The key takeaways are that making it easier for students to navigate the college environment and connect their coursework to their lives can improve student outcomes,” noted report author Elizabeth Mann Levesque.

National data shows that less than 40 percent of community college students attain a degree within six years. Addressing structural and motivational barriers could help to raise that percentage, Levesque writes.

Guided degree pathways and increased student advising are a good place to start, according to the report.

“In the cafeteria model, it is often difficult for students to identify a clear pathway from enrollment to obtaining a credential, earning a two-year degree, or transferring to a four-year program,” the report notes. “Program requirements and options are often unclear, and students have insufficient guidance and support to make informed choices.”

Students also need to see a connection between what they are learning in class and their long-term academic and career goals. If students perceive “little to no ‘real-word’ application of their coursework” they are more likely to disengage, Levesque wrote.

“For students to stay motivated to persist on their academic trajectory, they need to both see the destination (the careers and earnings their education will provide) and the pathway to get there (the connections between what they are doing in school and what they would like to achieve.”

Read the full report and visit NACAC’s transfer webpage.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org. 

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