Transforming the Student Co-Curricular Experience of Community Colleges

June 27, 2023 Watermark Insights

Transforming the Community College Student Co-Curricular Experience

Co-curricular experiences are an integral part of student success in many ways. They provide students with significant leadership experience and can increase retention and graduation rates in community colleges and beyond. Ensuring student success — both in and outside the classroom — has been challenging in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Student needs and perspectives have changed, and community colleges must change their approach to foster co-curricular community engagement. 

Many administrators assume that lack of student engagement is the fault of the students, but this may not be the case. As student needs have changed, program administrators must evolve their approach to meet them. With the right co-curricular community engagement strategy, community colleges can inspire their students to participate more actively in these critical supplementary activities. 

What Is Co-Curricular Community Engagement?

In line with the definition of co-curricular activities, co-curricular community engagement occurs outside the classroom, but it complements the academic curriculum in many ways. Co-curricular community engagement is the involvement of undergraduates in volunteer service activities within their community. 

Students can engage in activities ranging from one-off volunteering to extended volunteer commitments through membership in service-based sororities or fraternities. They can also take a leadership role in an organization with a community service focus. Students have various options to pursue co-curricular community engagement, varying from direct service — working within their local community — to raising money for philanthropic efforts. 

Why Co-Curricular Engagement Matters

Co-curricular engagement takes students out of the classroom and gives them a focus of learning to build essential life skills in a real-world environment. The social and leadership skills they attain translate into their academic lives, providing them with confidence and other valuable skills that enrich their overall academic experience. 

Outside of the traditional classroom setting, involvement is vital for retention, resilience, and graduation. Whatever the choice of the program — student clubs, athletics, leadership programs, community service, or the arts — students develop awareness, empathy, and skills necessary for college and the rest of their lives. 

Students who participate in co-curricular activities make friends, show self-efficacy and empathy, learn critical thinking, and develop essential skills for the job market. Some of the many benefits of co-curricular engagement include the following:

  • Social skills: Working within the community or student groups exposes students to differing views and experiences, allowing them to hone their emotional maturity. 
  • Work ethic: Committing to co-curricular activities requires students to fill work hours, instilling a sense of responsibility and ensuring they understand the importance of completing tasks. 
  • Time management: Balancing commitments and managing time is essential in the employment market. Students can hone this skill when working on their academic and co-curricular responsibilities. 
  • Fraternal ties: Students can strengthen their friendships and bonds through co-curricular activities, which provide them with lifelong friendships. 

The Challenges of Co-Curricular Engagement Within Community College Settings

Encouraging co-curricular engagement in a community college setting has challenges, the most common of which include lack of faculty and student enthusiasm, lack of clear definition, and insufficient staff. Some of the most prevalent challenges of co-curricular engagement include the following:

  • Financial limitations: Community colleges may need more funds for their proposed co-curricular activities. 
  • Time management and attendance: Students often have busy schedules and need help managing their time effectively enough to attend co-curricular activities. Timetable issues on the college side can lead to clashes, with students choosing to prioritize their academics. 
  • Lack of student engagement: Many institutions assume students are to blame for their lack of interest in co-curricular activities. However, they have yet to find a method to engage them and eliminate hindrances to their involvement. 

Engaging community college students in co-curricular activities starts with encouraging student participation. It's essential to provide environments for students where they feel comfortable engaging. For many community colleges, lack of enthusiasm is the most fundamental issue. It requires community colleges to shift their mindset, trying to meet students where they are and create positive environments for them to engage. 

Solutions to Improve Engagement

The most critical aspect of improving engagement is sending students a message that their needs matter. Higher education institutions must consider a shift in mindset and culture — a move away from how things have always been done. Student needs have changed, and improving engagement requires institutions to meet those needs. 

Solutions to Improve Engagement

Consider the following solutions to improve co-curricular engagement:

1. Meet the Needs of Students

Use your existing data to analyze who is attending programs and who isn't, and consider why certain students aren't attending. It could be as simple as timetable clashes, but upon closer inspection, you may notice that co-curricular activities need to be better tailored to the current student body. 

Consider weekend programs or programs that relate to academic progress or careers. Create open communication channels where students can freely discuss their needs and ask questions. Listening to their ideas will foster a sense of empowerment among students, who are more likely to attend programs and events they had a hand in creating. 

2. Integrate Academic, Personal, and Career Development

To leverage that connection, help students create a connection between their chosen course and the co-curriculum and intersect coursework and events. Students who can demonstrate their learning and competencies in the classrooms and through service, volunteering, and co-curricular programs are more likely to make an authentic and meaningful contribution to your co-curricular program. 

3. Collaborate Across the Campus

You need the entire campus on board to make the most of your co-curricular programs. Clarify that co-curricular activities are a critical goal for your institution. Conduct detailed audits of all your programs to determine attendance, successes, and opportunities to improve your offerings. 

4. Create a Positive Student Environment

Provide your faculty with as many resources as possible to expand their awareness of diverse student populations and help them shift their focus from giving students information to making them responsible for their development. Your students should feel safe to contribute to their environment, and your faculty can take a proactive role by something as simple as incorporating gender-inclusive words in coursework and co-curricular activities. 

Ensure Student Success with Watermark

Watermark has built innovative software solutions for decades, helping higher education institutions enact change and boost student success. 

With Watermark Student Success & Engagement, you can understand how to make the most significant student impact, improve engagement, elevate student outcomes, and boost the chances of degree or certificate completion. With Watermark, you can take student data off the page and make a measurable difference in student success throughout your institution. 

Please feel free to browse our solutions to learn more about how we can help you drive your improvement efforts. Alternatively, book a demo today and see firsthand how you can empower your students and faculty to achieve greater success. 

Ensure Student Success with Watermark

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