Early college connections : an investigation of first-year, persisting, full-time and part-time students' perceptions at a suburban community college
Nationally, nearly 40% of full-time community college students drop out before the second year, and drop-out rates for part-time students are even more astounding. In 2008, nearly 60% of part-time community college students dropped out before year two. As community colleges embrace President Obama’s call for a 50% increase in completion by 2020, it is imperative that community college leaders find ways to retain and graduate students. A number of community and technical colleges utilize the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) to quantitatively measure early campus connections. Building on the institutional early connection benchmark score, this study qualitatively describes first-year, persisting, full- and part-time students’ perceptions of early campus experiences and the role that early connections play in their decision to persist. The study employs a qualitative research approach via a single case study. Twenty-four, first-year, second semester, consecutively enrolled, full- and part-time students, who mirrored the college’s population participated in semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Findings indicate that early connections, as defined by the SENSE were not instrumental in persistence; however, a number of other factors were impactful: academic support; social influences; family support; and academic success. This study may provide information that will enhance the understanding of community college student perceptions related to factors that encourage persistence, and it may provide community colleges that operate within similar conditions, resources, and constraints with useful information as they design early connection strategies.