Community College Success: Numbers, Measures, and Delusions
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Community College Success: Numbers, Measures, and Delusions Excerpts from a Longitudinal Study of the Los Angeles Community College District. Linda Serra Hagedorn Professor and Chair Department of Educational Administration and Policy University of Florida. U.S. Department of Education

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Community College Success: Numbers, Measures, and DelusionsExcerpts from a Longitudinal Study of the Los Angeles Community College District

Linda Serra Hagedorn

Professor and Chair

Department of Educational Administration and Policy

University of Florida

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U.S. Department of Education

Office of Educational Research and Improvement

Washington, DC 20208

Grant # (R305T00015)

Lumina Foundation (1415)

Transfer and Retention of Urban Community College Students (TRUCCS)

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What is TRUCCS?







ransfer and etention of rban ommunity ollege tudents

  • 5 year longitudinal study of 5,000 community college students at the Los Angeles Community College District

  • 1. Qualitative (focus groups)

  • Quantitative (questionnaires)

    • Four collection points

      • 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005

  • 3. Transcript analyses (transcripts)

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Student Success

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Transcript Stories

  • Transcript Stories are the simplest type of transcript analysis

  • While a transcript story can only relate details of one student, it can be very powerful.

    • Choose “stories” that are representative.

      • Stories I

      • Stories II

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Participation Ratios (campus measures)

  • Proportionality of “Success” and “Non-Success”

    • What proportion of students. . . .

      • Are taking transfer level courses?

      • Are taking mathematics?

      • Are transitioning from basic skills to “college-level.”

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# courses completed (Grades A-through C)


# courses attempted

Course Completion Ratio: Community College Measure of Retention(and success)

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Developmental Climb

  • Progressing from one level of developmental math and English to the next

  • Progressing from developmental to transfer level

Community College Success

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Remediation Levels

  • Level 0: There exist no pre-requisites to enter the course and the course is designed to teach the students the necessary skills to be successful in level 1 courses and beyond.

  • Level 1: There may be a pre-requisite to join the course and the course is designed at a basic skills level aiding the student to master the basic skills needed to be successful in the advanced level courses

  • Level 2: There exists a pre-requisite to enroll in the course and the course is beyond the basic understanding of the core concepts. Usually the course itself is indicated with the title of intermediate. However, the course does not provide transfer credit to either the University of California or California State University systems, so is not at the advanced transfer level.

  • Level 3: The course provides transfer credits and is considered a college level course.

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Math Success I

Time Removed

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Math Success II

Different lens

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Grades and Success

  • Extant research assumes that “grades” is a continuous, linear, and ratio level variable.

    • The difference in academic success between grades (A versus B, B versus C, etc.) is neither ratio nor linear.

    • Grade of “C” may encompass a larger range of abilities

    • Grades of “D” do not transfer, some community college faculty may assign a “gentleman’s C”

    • Issues of grade inflation

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Measures of Time and Efficiency Transfer Level Courses

  • Efficiency as measured by the following

    • Number of drops: The number of times that students attempt a remedial level but drop it prior to successful completion

    • Time: semester count from first remedial enrollment to completion of college level work.

    • Backtracking: Backtracking occurs when a student enrolled in a less than college level course subsequently enrolls for a lower rather than higher level course.

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Gatekeeping classes Transfer Level Courses

Differential Progress

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Older and Younger Students Transfer Level Courses

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Step 3: Last Chancers Transfer Level Courses

45 years and above

Step 2: Prime Timers

31 to 45 years

Traditionally aged Students

Step 1: Young Adults

22 to 30 years

Age and Success

  • Using the student’s reported date of birth, each course was coded with the exact student age at the time of enrollment.

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Success Transfer Level Courses

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Course Completion by Transfer Level CoursesCross-sectional group

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Longitudinal Course completion Transfer Level Coursesstudents attending across three age steps

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Outcome: Transfer Level CoursesTransfer

5 years later

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Who Transferred as of 2005? Transfer Level Courses

  • Fall 2003

    • National Loan Clearinghouse

  • Fall 2005

    • National “Right to Know” records.

  • Students reported as enrolled in a four-year institution during either of these sweeps were coded as transfer.

    • The type of institution (i.e., state school, research university, for-profit, etc) also noted.

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Representation Check Transfer Level Courses

* notes statistical significance

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Proportion of Enrollments and Transfer Level CoursesPasses of Select “Gateway” and “Gatekeeper” courses

Unit of Analysis=course type

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Structure Matrix Transfer Level Courses

Results from a Discriminant Analysis

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Interpretations Transfer Level Courses

  • Approximately 400 community college students have transferred to a four-year institution

  • Many students expressed a desire to transfer, but most did not have academic records that would encourage or allow them to do so.

    • Desire to transfer may not be an appropriate way to categorize “transfer possible” students.

  • Differences in academic preparation.

    • Transfers had higher English and Math placement scores

    • Community college Achievement

      • Students who transferred had completed more transfer course modules (IGETC) and passed 18% more courses successfully.

      • More likely to be more engaged as evidenced by the higher average number of courses per semester.

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Differences Transfer Level Courses

  • Big differences in success in gateway and gatekeeper courses

    • Those who transferred were about twice as likely to have passed a Chemistry, Economics, or Biology course.

    • While few students took Calculus, Statistics or Physics; note that transfers were four times more likely to pass a Statistics or Physics class

      • Almost 7 times more likely to pass Calculus.

  • Students transferred to a diverse set of institutions (n=65);

    • Students with the highest GPA’s attended selective research universities

    • Our discriminant analysis revealed that the most discriminating variable was transfer readiness as defined by IGETC modules

      • Earlier work at these same campuses revealed the vast majority of students desiring to transfer had very little to no knowledge of the IGETC sequences (Hagedorn & Garcia, 2004).

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When it comes to Transfer, Academics Count Transfer Level Courses

  • Students in the Los Angeles Community College District who desire to transfer should:

    • Be advised and assisted to take transfer level courses within the IGETC specified curriculum.

    • Progress through the remedial/developmental work as quickly and as efficiently as possible

    • Remain continuously enrolled through completion of the transfer ready sequence.

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Policy Implications Transfer Level Courses

  • Based on these findings as well as other studies by the TRUCCS Research Team, the policies of advising and assisting students may deserve another look.

    • In the absence of convenient advising, students will turn to their peers for advice or will just try to figure it all out themselves.

    • Rather than exist as a separate entity, it is suggested that advising be more enmeshed with the classroom experience.

      • Periodic visits to classrooms by advisors (especially those that meet in the evenings and weekends) would bring advice to the student.

      • Information regarding the IGETC curriculum should be widely and repetitively dispensed.

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Technology Transfer Level Courses

  • Websites are only valuable if students are aware of them and use them.

    • Flyers, posters, or other means of dissemination announcing the websites should be made available to students.

    • Assist (

    • IGETC

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The Truth Transfer Level Courses

  • community college is an academic experience.

    • While endeavors to assist students to be more engaged in college life and to enjoy their experiences may be positive, they are hollow if not accompanied by intensive academic support and consistent advising services.

    • The root of the problems are academic and only academic solutions will make a difference in academic outcomes