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Why Community College Presidents Should Invest in Student Support

Those working closest with students at community colleges understand the barriers. What they need is the engagement and support of their institution.

The barriers preventing students from enrolling in community college are well known—just ask the administrator helping a new student apply for financial aid, or the case worker walking a young parent through child support options, or the teacher trying to develop a work placement program for their class. Unfortunately, knowing that the barriers exist does nothing to remove them. For that, community colleges need buy-in directly from their leadership.

Community college presidents have many demands on their attention, and given the complex nature of many barriers, it’s easy to understand how presidents can come to view them as intractable. However, solutions to some of these barriers are more attainable than might be suspected. Complete elimination of the barrier isn’t a prerequisite for success. Even a marginal lowering of a barrier can be enough to change the lives of thousands of students. And one such barrier that community college presidents have control over is the amount of support their students receive—and the level of marketing they put behind that support.

Student support shows a direct impact on enrollment and degree completion.

There are diminishing returns to removing one barrier without considering the other obstacles preventing student success. Cost is one such example. Many community colleges have made admirable progress over the years in reducing the financial burdens to students, to the extent that community college education is now free for many students under certain conditions, and highly affordable to many others.

Despite this, course completion rates remain low: over two-thirds of first-time, degree-seeking, full-time enrollees at community college do not complete a degree within three years. Remedial programs designed to better academically prepare students for success also show limited effectiveness. While addressing these barriers has doubtless helped some students, there are clearly other factors at play preventing students from succeeding.

One intervention that has shown consistent success is providing students with an advisor. According to a recent article from the Brookings Institution, an evaluation of one such program, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP):

“…showed that the intervention nearly doubled graduation rates after three years; 40% of the program group received a degree, compared with 22% of the control group. In addition, 25% of the served students were enrolled in a four-year institution, as compared to 17% of control group students. A replication of ASAP in Ohio also showed large positive effects on student outcomes, including a doubling of graduation rates after three years and significantly increased transfers to four-year colleges.

When student support is lacking, inequities persist.

If the benefits of individualized student mentorship are obvious, the consequences of neglecting this support are also clear: systemic inequalities persist and worsen. For instance, the students who are usually most in need of guidance are those from low-income households, minorities, first-generation college students, and those whose K–12 education experience left them disengaged.

These students are most likely to make mistakes when enrolling in classes—by missing a prerequisite, for instance, or enrolling in courses that don’t contribute toward their degree path. They are more likely to misunderstand expectations or feel alienated from their teachers and peers. As a result, they may end up taking longer to complete a program, fail to meet the requirements of a transfer program, or miss opportunities to secure an economically beneficial qualification through an additional certification.

Supporting students includes marketing student support.

Students can also be left behind when the resources that do exist for their support aren’t promoted. There is often an assumption that if students want a resource, they will do the legwork of seeking it out, but once again, this is an assumption that leads to inequity. The students most likely to be aware of a support opportunity are those with parents or other mentors who attended college and know how to navigate the system, or those with enough free time to do the research for themselves.

Marketing student support removes the pressure of researching options from overburdened students, and prevents crucial resources from being available only to those “in the know.”

Presidents play a special role as leaders of their institutions.

As we touched on earlier, community college presidents have many priorities competing for their attention, including the development of new programs, building the culture within their institution, and working with local and state governments to secure more resources.

The evidence around student support indicates that, in advocating for funding, presidents should push for the kind of mentorship programs that are showing such an impressive impact on course completion. And in making this ask, presidents should not neglect the importance of marketing these resources. After all, students need to know they exist if they are going to benefit from them.

Many community colleges are a success story waiting to happen.

Despite the dire nature of many headlines, signs for optimism abound. If marketing community college programs is an effective means of raising enrollment, and investment in support programs shows consistent improvement in student outcomes, then community colleges have a recipe at their fingertips for both growing their student body and improving the quality of life and economic opportunities for those in their region.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we’ve witnessed the success stories firsthand, as colleges who have put their marketing resources behind different career pathways have seen their enrollment numbers grow and formerly struggling programs thrive. If you would like to learn more about how we can help grow your community college through information-rich articles that highlight your programs and services, contact us today.

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