Cultural congruence and student connection in the community college: a case study
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This study is about the culture at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida. The intent is to assess Valencia’s cultural congruence and the corresponding importance of that congruence to students’ sense of connection within the College. Specifically, it is to assess the congruence of the underlying values of the culture, and then to determine how consistently those values appear in the actions and behaviors of the participants in the culture. Culture in this study has been defined as a social construct defining who we are manifested by what we do. Valencia has developed, over the years, an identifiable social construct which defines and guides peoples’ behavior in the College. Valencia’s values are clearly articulated, pervasive, and embraced by the employees and students. And, the values are manifested in overt behaviors. Values such as student-centeredness permeate the entire organization and touch the students. Congruence has been defined as the degree to which one predetermined element is consistent with another. The research demonstrates significant levels of congruence on several key cultural values including student and learner centeredness. The values espoused by the President in his words and actions are consistently evident and reflected among the cultural caretakers, the administrators, the Student Services staff, and the students. And, connection (in terms of a culture of connection which leads to engagement) is an intentionally cultivated environment clearly focused on developing meaningful, caring, productive relationships among participants. In their exit interviews, the students reflected the student-centered focus of the College. They talked about the culture at Valencia as being caring and intentionally focused on helping them become successful. The researcher’s initial assumption was that if cultural congruence was high, then students’ sense of connection would be high. If students’ sense of connection was high at Valencia, then they would tend to be more successful. This study shows that Valencia is culturally congruent on several explicit, well articulated, clearly understood values and that this congruence is felt by the students. They feel connected to the college—they feel cared for and supported—and this is critical for their engagement and success.