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Community College Overload: High Enrollment Means Less Access to Necessary Classes

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In the midst of the recession, community college students are already noticing the impact of high enrollment rates and substantial budget cuts.

The results of a new survey that was specially commissioned to better understand the plight of community college students in order to help them succeed found that one-third of students were unable to enroll in a class because it was already full.

The first national survey of its kind, the Pearson Foundation Community College Student Survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive between September 27 and November 4, 2010. The Pearson Foundation is a non-profit group that aims to make a difference by promoting literacy, learning, and great teaching. The survey was comprised of responses from 1,434 community college students between the ages of 18 and 59 who were enrolled in a U.S. community college and pursuing at least one course for college credit at any point between August 1, 2010, and the time the survey was taken.

Enrolling in Community College Courses? Good Luck!

About 20% of students surveyed reported difficulty enrolling in required courses for the fall 2010 semester, and about one-third had trouble enrolling in desired classes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Inside Higher Ed points out that many educators believe students that carry heavier course loads and continually make consistent progress toward a degree or credential have a greater chance of completion. However, as a whole, community college students enrolled in fewer courses than they had anticipated during the fall 2010 semester. According to the results of the survey, the average student planned to take 3.3 courses but wound up enrolling in 2.9 courses instead.

It’s tempting to immediately place the blame on the community colleges and high enrollment levels, but the survey failed to mention when students attempted to enroll in classes.“You used to be able to wait until the last moment,” Miguel Morales, a 43-year-old part-time student at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Kansas City, Kansas told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s getting to where you have to go online at three in the morning to get a spot in some classes.” A JCCC spokesperson claimed that few— if any—classes close out in a matter of hours.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help at Community College

About 5% of students surveyed dropped out during the first few weeks of the semester and 10% had “seriously considered” doing so. Students with full time jobs and students in remedial courses were most likely to have dropped out or seriously thought about dropping out of classes. Among those students that considered dropping out, 20% said they could not get the help that they needed.

Even though two-thirds of students surveyed felt that access to academic advisors and establishing relationships with professors is necessary in to succeed in community college, 74% of students that did drop out did not seek assistance or discuss their intentions with an advisor or instructor, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The main reasons for dropping a course included:

  • “Having the course turn out to be different from what students expected or losing interest in the course” (27%)
  • “Not liking the professor” (25%)
  • “Having a heavy workload in the course” (24%)
  • “Performing poorly in the course” (20%)

Community Colleges May Eventually Have to Turn Away Students

Problems regarding class registration are mild compared to those facing community college students in the state of California, where budget cuts may cause the biggest collegiate system in the U.S to turn away about 350,000 applicants next year. The state currently serves about 2.76 million students.

Dr. Thomas Bailey, director of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center in New York City, told the Wall Street Journal that some community colleges are considering establishing an academic bar. “They’re saying, ‘Maybe we should set a floor—a certain level of skills you need to have’” to win admittance.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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