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Survey: 1 in 3 Community College Students Reports Inadequate Advising on Academic Plans; 60 Percent Report Lack of Information About Job Opportunities

By Kate Stringer | February 13, 2018

Rissel Soliz, a student at NOVA, Northern Virginia Community College, gets curriculum advice from Glenda Sorto, a counselor in 2014 in Annandale, Virginia. (Photo credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

College advising has room for improvement when it comes to engaging students, according to a new national survey from the Center for Community College Student Engagement that collected responses from 113,000 students at 188 colleges.

Students reported feeling more engaged when they met with their college advisers more frequently and for longer periods of time than those who did not, the survey found.

But the survey also identified areas for improvement. While 86 percent of students said advisers explained which classes they should take, just 65 percent said they reviewed an academic plan and only 39 percent reported being informed about local employment opportunities in their field of study.

“So many of our students, they need an advocate. They need somebody connected to them,” said Evelyn Waiwaiole, the center’s executive director. “When we talk about engagement, we know that the more connected you are to the institution, to a peer, to the material, the more likely you are to be successful.”

This is important, as persistence rates for community college students hover around 60 percent, and those who do graduate sometimes end up with more credits than they need. This can be because the students switch their focus area or because schools require extra credits for graduation.

In an analysis by Complete College America, community college students graduate with an average of 80 credits, 20 more than the organization says a typical associate’s degree should require.

Many community college students start school already behind. Nearly two-thirds of incoming students require remedial courses, and only half who enroll in those classes complete them all. The cost of remediation to students has been estimated to be as high as $4 billion.

The report found that more students are seeking out advisers than in the past. In 2011, 56 percent of students said they had met with an adviser to talk about academic goals, a number that increased to 67 percent in 2016, Waiwaiole said.

Satisfaction with advising is also an area for improvement: 47 percent of students said they were very satisfied with their advising experience, while 44 percent said they were somewhat satisfied and 7 percent said they were not at all satisfied.

Advisers should be talking with students not just about their academic plans but also about their obligations outside school, Waiwaiole said. Many community college students juggle families, jobs, children, and finances. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 36 percent of students are the first in their families to go to college, 17 percent are single parents, and 58 percent receive financial aid.

Waiwaiole recommends this as an area for further professional development. She also suggests that colleges hire more advisers. At Georgia State University, 42 advisers were added to the staff, and although this cost $2 million, “it more than paid for itself because the increased retention rate meant more revenue for the school,” Timothy Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Georgia State, said in the report.

Schools could also incorporate advising into college classes to increase accessibility, or build academic planning into the registration process, the report suggested. It also cautioned against practices that could hinder the advising process, such as allowing students to register for classes a week before classes start rather than encouraging them to start earlier and meet with an adviser first.

The report pointed to Cleveland State Community College as a model. The school’s three-year graduation rate increased by 8 percentage points after it refreshed its advising program in 2013 to require students to see an adviser before registering for classes, assign advisers to students according to their area of academic interest, and lengthen advising sessions for new students to as much as an hour. After these policies were implemented, more students reported advising sessions as being helpful.

“Very few students are having in-depth conversations,” Waiwaiole said. “We’re trying to change what those conversations are about.”

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