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Community Colleges and Underappreciated Assets: Using Institutional Data to Promote Success in Online Learning
Posted on 15 March 2014 by Shahril Effendi Bin Ibrahim (Senior Librarian)
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Alyse C. Hachey
Katherine M. Conway
Claire W. Wladis
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Adapting to the 21st century, community colleges are not adding brick and mortar to meet enrollment demands. Instead, they are expanding services through online learning, with at least 61% of all community college students taking online courses today (Pearson, 2011). As online learning is affording alternate pathways to education for students, it is facing difficulty in meeting outcome standards; attrition rates for the past decade have been found to be significantly higher for online courses than face-to-face courses (Carr, 2000; Hachey, Wladis & Conway, 2012a/b; Morris & Finnegan, 2008; Tyler-Smith, 2006). Yet, there is a lack of empirical investigation on community college online attrition, despite the fact that course and institutional management systems today are automatically collecting a wealth of data which are not being utilized but are readily available for study. This article presents a meta-review of one community college’s realization of their underappreciated asset… the use of institutional data to address the dearth of evidence on factors effecting attrition in online learning. At the turn of the 20th century, community colleges arose as a response to social activism and economic change in the U.S (Kasper, 2002). The 1930’s and the great depression focused community colleges on job training programs to combat widespread unemployment. In the 1960’s community colleges emerged as a low-cost degree option that could be used to transition into baccalaureate colleges and universities, offering a gateway to higher education that otherwise would have been denied to many. Seeking to stimulate the workforce and create a more literate society, community colleges have evolved over the last century to provide opportunities for students of lower socio-economic status, minorities and those students not served by traditional four-year colleges (Shannon & Smith, 2006). With the civil rights movement, the growth and importance of community colleges rose astronomically, and by the 1970s, community colleges became a dominant force in the U.S. educational system (Kasper, 2002). Regardless of the era, community colleges have always adapted to societal demands; no other segment of U.S. higher education has been as flexible and responsive. Since the late 1960’s, the community college has been the fastest growing segment of higher education, and this has never been truer now, at the dawning of the 21st century. Virtually every state is reporting enrollment surges at community colleges (Hagedorn, 2010). The American Association for Community Colleges (AACC) reports increases of 16.9% in community college enrollments from 2007 to 2009 (Mullin & Phillippe, 2009). The recent rise in high school graduation rates coincides with a time of diminished job opportunities in the U.S (Fry, 2010). With President Obama’s American Graduate Initiative and an expected five million Americans earning degrees and certificates in the next decade, the growth of community college enrollments is expected to outpace increasing enrollments in all other types of higher education (Kasper, 2002). The accepted belief that higher education leads to increased social capital (Brick, 1963), and President Obama’s identification of community colleges as “one of America’s underappreciated assets” (Obama, 2009), makes it clear that the community colleges are going to play an increasingly larger role in post-secondary education. Today’s community colleges are comprehensive, providing a myriad of opportunities for increasingly diverse student bodies. Community colleges are the major leader in providing vocational preparation and workforce development. There is a growing trend of certificate programs (Kasper, 2002), as older and part-time students who hold full-time jobs seek out community colleges for additional training and to keep up-to-date with work-related technologies. They also serve as a primary provider of academic instruction, with half of all first-time freshmen starting at community colleges (Kasper, 2002; Ruth, Sammons, & Poulin, 2007). Community colleges have seen a rise in enrollments of degree-seeking traditionally underrepresented students: racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and women (Kasper, 2002; Fry, 2010). Thus, today’s community colleges serve the triple mission of providing remedial education and English as a second language services, occupational certification and licensure and associate degrees which can lead to transfer to senior colleges and universities. Since their inception, the overarching emphasis of community colleges is on providing access: offering open admission, affordable higher education and programs that meet the lifestyle needs of continually evolving populations of students.
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