For community colleges that are looking for more cash, the easiest way to generate more revenue is to enroll more students. Enticing students to register for more credit hours would accomplish the same thing. Regardless, these approaches describe the same phenomenon: student retention. Retaining students accomplishes a lot for both the institution and the student.
For the institution, student retention improves the graduation rate. It stabilizes the budget. It realizes the investment that taxpayers make in both the community college and its students. Allowing students to “disappear” also allows all the benefits of student retention to disappear along with it. So, it is critical to understand why students do not complete their educational programs.
If you asked a thousand former community college students why they didn’t finish a degree, you’d get a thousand answers. Likely however, certain themes would emerge. Some students will find engaging and well-paying jobs without having a degree. That can negate the motivation to finish a degree program. Other students will chalk up their disenrollment to lack of time, lack of money or both. Still others might attribute the demise of their academic aspirations to their mental or physical health. Students often stop attending classes for other reasons, like transportation, internet access, or the demands of work and family.
Student retention is about making a connection
Community college administrations would learn as much (or more) about student retention by asking their graduates why they stayed. Their graduates overcame all the obstacles that the dropouts did not. Research has shown that students who have a connection to their institution are less likely to drop out.
That “connection” occurs in the classroom. It could be the instructors or other students in a cohort. It could even be the subject material or the equipment in the classroom.
For the students who graduate, their connection is their instructors. Students understand this. That’s why sites like Rate My Professor exist. Not surprisingly, there is no site called “Rate My College President” or “Rate My Trustees.” (There should be.)
I have said this before, but students don’t attend a school because of its administration. Most students would be hard-pressed to even name the president of their college. But they can easily name their instructors, what they teach and what the student has learned from them. The student’s connection to the institution begins (and ends) in the classroom. And that connection forms the basis of student retention. That connection isn’t merely important; it’s critical to student retention.
So, it is a little jarring to read about trustees who refuse to address issues the college executive has created.
This is an issue the County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ is dealing with right now. The Trustees and the CCM president are lined up on one side. The faculty and students are on the other. You can read the full story here .
Blind support is blind oversight
The point is that when the Trustees blindly support the college President, they aren’t supporting the college and they aren’t supporting the students. In fact, they are eliminating the chance for students to make that all-important connection with the College. They are damaging the opportunity to maximize student retention.
The County College of Morris is experiencing much of the same turmoil WCC has experienced during the current president’s tenure. The Board of Trustees there has lined up against the faculty. In doing so, they’ve lined up against the students.
So, when the Trustees create this dynamic, it becomes easy to see why Administrators look for ways to raise revenue that don’t involve students. Even though this position wildly misses the very purpose of a community college. The argument becomes more about the Trustees advancing their own agendas than whether the executive is good for the community. Worse, the failure to prioritize student enrollment sets up a downward enrollment spiral. It destabilizes the college’s finances, and it damages the long-term health of the College.
Trustees who have a greater investment in supporting the college’s Executive than they have in supporting the college’s students return net negative value to the community. They represent the highest order of failure a community college can experience.
Photo Credit: Eddie~S, via Flickr