Connection by Design: Students' perceptions of their community college experiences

T. Nodine
L. Jaeger
A. Venezia
K. R. Bracco


Across focus groups consisting of current and former community college students in four states (Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas), a consistent message resounded: Students want to be more connected to their colleges, from the moment they enter until the day they complete their studies. They want to feel more connected to faculty, staff, and peers. They want to be more engaged by their classes and to feel more supported by services they receive. And they want to see colleges be more deliberate in ensuring those connections. "Connection by Design" is the second of two reports based on student focus group discussions conducted in spring 2012 by staff from WestEd and Public Agenda. It supports the findings from the first report, Student Voices on the Higher Education Pathway (Public Agenda & WestEd, 2012), about college students' desire to receive transparent, accessible, accurate, and timely information leading up to and during their college experiences. In addition, it analyzes students' ideas about their community college experiences as they related to several strategies for increasing college completion rates. The focus groups discussed information delivery methods and student supports, including orientation, student success courses, advising, and alert systems; instructional services, including developmental education and entry into a program of study; and career preparation and exploration. Overall, students understand the pros and cons of choosing educational goals and entering into a program of study soon after starting college versus exploring a variety of options for one or more years. Most wish that their college had provided them with more structured opportunities to explore their options.



This study utilizes 15 focus groups (n = 161) conducted at community colleges in four (mostly southern) states. The groups consisted of current, completed, and non-completed students. While the authors are quick to note the limited size of the study does not allow for broad generalizations, students were fairly consistent with their criticism and praises of curriculum, classes, and colleges.

Generally, students encourage colleges to provide more one-on-one interacts. These interactions should include college, class, and career specific information such as what degree or education is needed to have a successful career in a given area or how to successfully navigate difficult and confusing parts of class registration. Personal interaction with knowledgeable career and academic advisors would also help students enroll in classes that would help streamline classes taken and graduation requirements.

Students had mixed reactions to remedial classes, noting these classes do not always count toward graduation credits or students had already learned presented material in high school. Students who participated in accelerated remedial classes had a higher satisfaction rating and many students also were excited by the idea of enrolling in college-credit earning classes in high school.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Technology-enhanced
Publication Type Report
In Publication WestEd (NJ3)
Type of Research Qualitative
Research Design Focus Groups
Intervention/Areas of Study Administration, management, and leadership, including accreditation, financial models, and legal, Advising and other institutional support, Coaching, including academic success coaching, Course and program evaluation, Course organization, Engagement, Instructor-student interactions, Social presence, Student motivation, Student readiness, Student support
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed No
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 2-year institution
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Course completion, Degree attainment, Institutional effectiveness, Persistence, Retention, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size 100-199
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