A Review of Student Retention Factors and Best Practices That Influence Non-Traditional Community College Students

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In the last decade, more students are enrolling in college. According to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), from 1997 to 2007, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 26 percent from 14.5 million to 18.2 million (2009). Much of this growth was in full-time student enrollment, 34 percent; while the number of part-time students increased by 15 percent (NCES, 2009). This increase, in part, can be attributed to a national population boom largely due to an increase in immigration (“10 Predications”, 2005). While 25% of adults in the United States have a bachelor’s degree, half of American adults have never attended college, even though an increasing number of careers now require some form of postsecondary credentials (“10 Predications”, 2005). Due to the increasing educational demands of entry-level positions, more adults will be interested in attending college for the first time to increase their employability. This population has and will continue to play a major role in the college enrollment boom. According to the NCES, enrollment of students aged 25 and over is estimated to increase by 19 percent from 2006-2017; whereas enrollment of students under 25 is only projected to increase by 10 percent (2009). This older, adult population is many times referred to as non-traditional in postsecondary educational settings. This student group is very diverse and meets the non-traditional student criteria when one or more of the following qualities are met: (a) student has responsibility for the care of another, such as a child or elderly relative; (b) student is employed more than 20 hours per week; (c) student is over the age of 25; (d) student is independent of parents; and (e) student has a delay between high school and college attendance (Purslow & Belcastro, 2006). Zhai and Monzon (2001) would include two additional criteria to the list: student resides off campus, and student is enrolled on a part-time basis. According to Purslow and Belcastro, 73 percent of all undergraduate students fall into this category, making this non-traditional group the new majority group on college campuses (2006). While college enrollment increases, retention, persistence, and completion rates continue to lag. According to Conley (2008), “only about 35 percent of students who entered four year colleges seeking a bachelor’s degree in 1998 had earned their degree four years later, and only about 56 percent had graduated six years later” (p.23). According to the NCES (2009) 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelors degree graduate within six years. The numbers are more dismal for two-year institutions. According to Zhai and Monzon (2001) only 38 percent of students in a two-year institution will graduate. Retention is a complex topic that research has shown has many different variables that factor into the equation. Opp and Colby (1986) pointed to a number of internal and external factors that affect a student’s persistence. External factors included insufficient funds to meet educational, living and personal expenses, work demand and conflicts, housing, roommate or transportation problems, social demands, including those made by personal relationships, and family obligations (Opp & Colby, 1986). Internal factors included procrastination and other self-management problems, inability to ask for help, fear of failure, loneliness, self-doubt, value conflicts, and career indecision (Opp & Colby, 1986). They also went on to identify certain groups that are more at-risk for not being retained than others. These included new to postsecondary education, academically underprepared for college-level work, undecided about their major or career plans, economically disadvantaged, and first-generation college students (Opp & Colby, 1986). Rendon (1995) breaks retention into two categories: student-related barriers and institution-related barriers. Student-related barriers include low SES, poor academic preparation,...
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