Community College Student Completion Rates and Strategies for Improvement

Norma Whitacre

Abstract

The problem of practice addressed in this qualitative case study was low community college student completion rates. Community college student completion rates for certificate and degree seeking students are consistently approximately 32% compared to approximately 60% for four-year colleges and universities (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2017). The lower community college graduation rates represent a structural inequality in the higher education system because community colleges, compared to four-year colleges and universities, serve a disproportionately large percentage of the nation’s low-income and underrepresented minority students (Wyner, 2014). In this study, interactive focus groups provided information for an in-depth analysis of practices and factors present in a Community College Medical Assisting Certificate Program that had consistently high completion rates. The intent of the study was to hear directly from the program faculty and students in order to offer community college professionals specific, actionable strategies to increase student persistence to program completion. Focus groups consisted of students who had completed the program and (separately) full-time faculty who had taught in the program. Student participants were asked to share their experiences that impacted their ability to complete the program. Faculty were asked their perspectives on factors that contributed to such high student completion rates. Study results indicated that the cohort model used by the Medical Assisting Program was the most critical factor in the program’s high student persistence and completion rates.