College and Career Readiness Students: The Next Enrollment Group
Take people where they are and carry them as far as they can go. As a North Carolina community college educator, I have been trained to remember this statement by Dallas Herring as the reason to show up to work every day. With this statement, it’s also important that community colleges not let policies and procedures impede their mission, especially as it relates to student services and enrollment. One often overlooked student group in these discussions is College and Career Readiness (CCR) students who take free classes. If they were recognized as a target group for enrollment and provided with wrap-around services early in their studies, then community colleges are later more likely to enroll these students into advanced level programs and retain them more easily.
The North Carolina division of CCR transitioned from a free general literacy program through which community colleges offered Adult Basic Education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL), and Adult High School (AHS) education to a performance-based program. But colleges would only receive funding if their students met certain performance standards. Part of these new standards included students matriculating into either workforce programs or curriculum programs at their institutions. As the standards changed and became more rigorous, some community colleges saw an opportunity to fully engage CCR students into campus life and soon enroll them into other programs. Unfortunately, this mindset has not occurred across all community colleges due to unfamiliarity with this student population and its needs.
College and Career Readiness students (who are non-traditional) typically don’t receive the same services as tuition-paying community college students. Yet, they are the next logical group to be funneled into curriculum and workforce development programs. These students are often not afforded the same consideration as peers, such as holistic advising, counseling support, academic tutoring or inclusion in campus student events. While engaging all students is a goal for colleges, it is easier said than done. Many colleges are unknowingly losing enrollment and missing retention opportunities when ignoring this significant group of students.
CCR programs across North Carolina accommodate anywhere from 800 to 4,400 students annually. Due to financial hardships, unemployment, underemployment, lack of a degree (for some), family life, and any other obstacle often common to non-traditional students, CCR students are likely to drop out of school early. To combat the lack of retention, CCR staff are taking matters into their own hands by providing their own types of services to retain students and help them persist, including providing students with snacks before tests, giving college campus tours, partnering with non-profits to provide extra services to students and creating department-based emergency funding for students. These are ambitious goals when CCR students do not have the full support of the entire college (retention and enrollment should be a college-wide effort). Similarly with any other non-traditional student, engaging CCR students in campus life and student services early coupled with incorporating holistic advising methods can greatly retain them. Even more, providing support services campus-wide helps acclimate them to college life and makes it easier for them to see themselves as future curriculum and workforce students. These students, already at-risk of leaving their academic careers, are the most likely to receive reactive (not proactive) advising as well as mistreatment on campus due to misunderstandings and/or misinterpretations.
So, how do colleges engage this group? Many colleges may be surprised to discover just how loyal CCR students become when they are treated as any other college student would be and invested in:
1. Specialized campus tours
If CCR students take classes in the evening or at off-campus sites, schedule tours of the main campus. Show them the library, admissions building, president’s office, and introduce them to the vice president of student support services or the dean of student affairs. It makes college less scary and familiarizes them with campus.
2. Special events
Giving CCR students the chance to engage with other students helps them get acclimated to campus life and college culture, sooner rather than later. Holding events specifically for them also allows them to get to know one another better and create support networks, aiding with academic persistence and retention.
3. Opportunities for extracurricular activities
Since CCR classes are free, many CCR students do not get to join campus clubs and organizations because they do not pay their fees. Instead, give them the choice of paying the fee. Students, regardless of age, want to be involved and feel like part of their school. Paying a club fee to participate will not necessarily cause be a financial burden for CCR students.
4. Provide student support and tutoring services
When a CCR student, often seen as at-risk immediately upon entering the program, does not receive proper advising, counseling support, tutoring, or has to find those services on their own because of tuition-related policies, the college is telling the student that CCR is not worth the investment. Instead, see the student as any other student who needs to be cared for, guided and retained.
As community colleges work to increase enrollment numbers and refine student service practices, it is important to consider the needs of all students. Student engagement correlates to retention and success. Non-traditional students, regardless of academic program, need care, encouragement, and intrusive advising to continue in their current program of study and matriculate into curriculum and workforce programs. Incorporating CCR students into the student service and enrollment practice must therefore be necessary.
Author Perspective: Administrator