Students face many challenges at community college. In order to uncover a clearer path to student success, institutions and administrators must focus on redesigning America's community colleges on a fundamental level. Institutional support can better equip students with the skills and resources they need to thrive, allowing schools to see better outcomes, like retention and graduation rates.
What Challenges Are Community College Students Facing?
College students are busy individuals balancing several priorities at once, from their studies to their jobs to their family commitments. Some common challenges include:
- Adjusting to college-level courses
- Working full- or part-time outside of class
- Having family commitments, like caring for children, siblings, or others
- Keeping up with religious commitments
- Being new to the area
- Coping with physical and mental health demands
- Facing a lack of access to adequate technology
Each community college is unique, so administrators and faculty can design programs and services that better meet student needs by understanding their student population and listening to students.
What Makes a Successful Community College Student?
The characteristics of successful community college students are diverse and versatile. Their skills and experiences can shape them into excellent students who make the most of their education and careers. Some characteristics that can set students up for success at community college include:
- Resourcefulness: Community college students have many resources and services available to them. Successful students know where and when to use these resources. Whether it is seeking financial aid or an academic advisor, they know how to seek the support their need.
- Social Engagement: Isolation can lead to feeling disconnected from the rest of your student population and increase dropout rates. Successful community college students get involved with campus and community organizations to make connections that will support their education and personal lives.
- Independence: While social elements are essential to student success, students must also be able to rely on themselves and their skills. Independent work is an integral part of college curricula, requiring students to research and complete assignments alone. Knowing how to manage time and execute tasks can boost student performance and success at your college.
- Resilience: When community college students can face so many challenges, resilience and perseverance can keep them invested in their education and progressing toward their goals. Whether they are striving for a degree or vocational certification, overcoming challenges will prevent dropouts and transfers.
With diverse populations, student success and the associated characteristics can take on many forms. Each student has different strengths that can set them up for success.
Tips for Increasing Student Success on Community College Campuses
When schools want to boost student success, implementing the right strategies and tactics can support your population and help students achieve their academic and educational goals. What excellent community colleges can do to prepare all students for success include the following:
- Helping students feel connected: Students who feel connected to their campus are more likely to stay through graduation. Whether they are looking for social or research opportunities, schools can meet various demands by offering diverse ways for students to connect with each other and faculty. Some ideas include transfer student introductions, organizations for students or color, and support groups for studying parents.
- Advertising student services: Many students are unsure of where various essential resources are and how to access them. Clarifying what resources are available can highlight opportunities for students to get the essential help they need. You might consider adding certain services and locations to campus tours or sending out reminders throughout the semesters about your offerings and where to find them.
- Implementing technology to identify student risks: Technology and data collection tools can help your school understand and identify the risks most prevalent on your campus. When you know the specific challenges your students face most, you can design and implement programs that better meet their needs. Data can also identify specific struggling students, so faculty and staff know who to reach out to and when.
Eight of the Top 10 Community Colleges Are in North Carolina — What's Their Secret to Student Success?
North Carolina is home to eight of the top 10 community colleges in the nation, according to a 2021 SmartAsset study. In fact, the state’s community college system is so strong that it swept all six highest-ranked spots.
The ranking is based on student-to-faculty ratio, cost of tuition, and, perhaps most importantly, graduation and transfer rates. While the first two metrics are relatively easy to control, it can be harder to explain the reasons behind overall student success. So what are North Carolina community colleges doing right? And how can other community colleges tap into similar success?
There’s another common thread to a majority of the top-performing community colleges besides the state where they're located: they have partnered with Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) and have been leveraging their student success platform for an average of five years.
The platform uses predictive analytics to identify at-risk students early on, then connects these individuals to the necessary resources or interventions, thereby improving student engagement. Watermark has delivered proven results nationwide in engagement, retention, persistence, and completion rates, measuring its technology’s efficacy by the number of students crossing the finish line to graduation or transferring to a four-year institution.
We spoke to some of the top-performing community colleges about how Watermark solutions are helping them stand out among the nation’s 820 community colleges. Let’s look at these institutions in greater detail to hear their firsthand experience with Watermark.
1. Brunswick Community College | Bolivia, NC
For the second year in a row, SmartAsset named Brunswick Community College the nation’s number one community college. The school’s 82% graduation and transfer rate is part of what propelled it to the top of the list. How does Brunswick Community College continue to lead the pack?
The school’s president, Gene Smith, says that Watermark has bolstered the school's focus on student success. President Smith says, “Since implementing Watermark, we are so much better equipped to identify students in need and connect them to campus support services.” He continues, “We’ve opened up communication lines with students about their course successes and struggles, and as a result, we’ve increased our understanding of persistence and retention patterns amongst our student populations.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Denise Houchen-Clagett, Ed.D adds that Watermark’s platform helped faculty and staff provide seamless support services during students’ transition to remote schooling. She highlights that the platform’s texting capabilities were especially helpful as they enabled Brunswick staff to communicate with students to assess their technology needs. Houchen-Clagett says, “With Watermark, success coaches are able to continue working their caseloads, communicating with students, and providing outreach services to those in need.”
2. Pamlico Community College | Grantsboro, NC
Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro, North Carolina boasts a 76% graduation and transfer rate and is the least expensive community college in the top 10. By leveraging Watermark’s notices about student performance, Cristy Lewis Warner, Counselor and Director of the Career Center at Pamlico, stays ahead of student needs. She explains, “Watermark keeps instructors, advisors, and counselors updated on students in real time with any concerns regarding the student, as well as how they are doing academically.”
The institution participated in the First in the World (FITW) research program with impressive results. FITW, a five-year study, was designed to determine if proactive and individualized success coaching at 10 North Carolina Community Colleges would improve student success. At Pamlico Community College, Course Completion for students attempting spring and fall coursework has increased 16.3% since working with Watermark.
3. Carteret Community College | Morehead City, NC
Carteret Community College is the third-highest-ranking community college. Allison Daniel, Director, Counseling, Disabilities, and Retention at Carteret appreciates Watermark’s holistic approach to student information. “Watermark gives us the ability to quickly and easily access the right information and get it in the right hands to make decisions, ensuring we support the right student at the right time.”
Daniel uses the Watermark platform to encourage success among Carteret students. She appreciates the ability to tailor the software to the students’ and school’s needs, and says that through Watermark, success coaches and counselors can “track the students and the communication from all campus stakeholders in seconds.”
Carteret participated in a five-year study with First in the World and is currently engaged with the Minority Male Success Initiative (MMSI), a three-year research study with Watermark that aims to improve minority male student outcomes by promoting participation and collaboration between the student and institution.
4. Montgomery Community College | Troy, NC
Montgomery Community College in Troy, North Carolina takes great pride in its graduation and transfer rate of 70%. “Witnessing a student be successful is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in education,” says Diana Sanchez, who leads Counseling & Disability Services at Montgomery. “The Watermark early alert system is a tremendous asset in helping us increase student success.”
Montgomery Community College is using the Watermark student success platform to increase retention and completion rates among minority male students as part of the MMSI, which is currently in its second year of research.
5. Sampson Community College | Clinton, NC
With a graduation transfer rate of 74%, Sampson Community College ranks fifth in the top 10 US community colleges. “When asking other institutions how they addressed retention and completion, Watermark was always one of the top three answers,” says Dr. Marvin Rondon, Dean of Student Services and Institutional Effectiveness at Sampson.
Dr. Rondon finds Watermark’s data-driven approach and predictive analytics to be especially insightful when presenting opportunities to expand the college's enrollment and retention strategies. Automated alerts and easy-click referrals allow his team to proactively reach out to students and provide more personalized support. He notes, “With the help of Watermark, we are able to serve all students in a way that we’ve never been able to before.” Sampson Community College is also participating in the Minority Male Success Initiative three-year research study with Watermark.
6. College of The Albemarle | Elizabeth City, NC
College of The Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, ranks sixth in the nationwide community college rankings with a graduation and transfer rate of 75%, the 19th-highest in the study of more than 820 community colleges in the United States. Since 2015, Watermark has been a valuable partner with the College of The Albemarle. Dr. Eushekia Hewitt, Director of Advising and Student Success, appreciates the transparency the Watermark platform provides, as well as the ability to send alert notifications and track team progress to avoid duplicate work.
“With Watermark, we can ensure all students are reached out to and engaged in a personal way. As a result of the information and insights Watermark provides us, we are seeing the direct impact our efforts are having on the student population.” The institution also participated in a five-year study with First in the World, and the team finds the platform “easy to use, intuitive, and extremely user-friendly.”
7. Randolph Community College | Asheboro, NC
While it is the seventh North Carolina school to make the list, Randolph Community College ranks ninth out of 820 community colleges surveyed. Randolph Success Coach Pam Wiggins credits Watermark with keeping students in school, saying that the platform is “one of the most critical tools in my success coaching toolbox.” She uses Watermark’s data-specific tools daily to uncover the risk factors that affect individual students and develop interventions that enable success.
With comprehensive outreach tools and trend-setting patterns, she identifies which students require interventions. Suzanne Rohrbaugh, Vice President for Instructional Services, adds that the Watermark platform “improves internal communication among various areas of the college to be better informed about students and their progress.” The persistence rate for high-risk students has increased by 12% since working with Watermark.
Support Your Students With Watermark
Being a higher education student is hard, but being an at-risk higher education student is even harder. And, on top of navigating a sometimes overwhelming system, today’s students face increased uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges. Students can flounder before finding the help they need, and similarly, institutions can struggle to identify these at-risk students before it’s too late.
With Watermark, institutions like yours can connect students to the resources they need to be successful. Just take it from these North Carolina Community Colleges that made their way to the top 10 community colleges in America.
Contact us today to find out how a partnership with Watermark can help both your institution and your students succeed.
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