Community College Makes Huge Gains in Retention

Community College Makes Huge Gains in Retention

Guttman_Community_CollegeWe don’t blog very much about higher education.  We don’t train people to teach  or be administrators in higher ed.  We do partner with higher ed institutions to offer the programs we do, so we pay attention to the landscape.

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Higher Education is undergoing a tremendous amount of change.  It’s a very difficult process for a group of institutions that are not designed for rapid change.  After all, if you are still teaching the Ancient Greeks more than what happens today in Athens, you obviously value the past.  

Community Colleges are at the forefront of change in higher education.  Almost half of all higher education students utilize community colleges at some point.  However, their track record for having their students complete their programs is pretty awful.  Quick, guess for every one hundred students who first enroll at a CUNY community college graduate in 2 years?  4 years?  6 years? (Don’t cheat and look at the next paragraph for the answer).

If you guessed about 2, 16 and 20, you were pretty close.  75-80% of students who start at a given place don’t complete there at all.  Sure, some of them go elsewhere and finish, but a whole lot of students don’t finish at all.  The upshot of incompletions is higher debt, lower lifetime earnings, a sense of failure etc. 

The community college officials we talk with are totally cognizant of the problem they have.  They are trying a lot of different things, and here I want to report on one approach, adopted by the newest CUNY community college. 

Here’s what Guttman Community College does that’s different.  They start with a bridge program between high school and college, and then have a highly structured first year, with students taking courses in cohorts, just as CITE students do for most programs.   The operating thesis is that the realm of choice typically available for college students is counter-productive for many students.  

They have a more proactive advisement system that they call “student-success advocates”.  Instead of someone who signs off on what courses you’ve enrolled in, these advisors actually meet with the faculty to discuss student progress.  Lastly, they have a curriculum tailored to the target audience of first generation low income immigrant students.  The curriculum focuses on the city itself: for instance the theme of the first semester is urban environmental sustainability and the theme of the second semester is immigration.  The city is used as a kind of living lab, so there are lots of field trips to connect academic work with real life.

So how it is working?  They retained 75% of their first year class, compared to 57% for the other CUNY community colleges.  They are expecting to graduate 20% at the end of this  year, a number that matches the typical six year graduation rate and is almost 10 times the typical CUNY 2 year rate.  Is this heaven on earth?  No, but it’s progress and an option a lot of students should consider. 

For more information, here’s their website.

Jared Gellert is the executive director of the Center for Integrated Training and Education . CITE trains teachers in Literacy and Early Childhood, administrators, and counselors in the 5 boroughs of NYC and Long Island. We also offer an online PhD program.


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