Leading them to water: A study of the efficacy of a Mandatory Placement Project in first-year academic courses at a community college

Emmerson, Janet
Major Professor
Larry H. Ebbers
Committee Member
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Research Projects
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Student retention is a topic at the forefront for all post secondary education institutions. Supporting students in their studies, providing the resources to empower them to complete their education is a critical component in the quality and success of colleges. It is also a fiscal concern for colleges. While first year programs abound, community colleges are faced with the challenges of a largely commuter population with very diverse backgrounds. Community colleges are also by mission, open access institutions.

This quantitative research study looked at a mandatory placement project piloted at a central Iowa community college in 2006 and 2007. It focused on an analysis of the first year program options provided at the college and the effectiveness of intensive, directed advisement of students to participate in one or more of the options in relation to enhanced persistence from fall to spring.

Six different academic course environments were studied: a traditional first year seminar course focused on acclimating students to college; a course focused on skills necessary for successful postsecondary studies; learning communities, educational constructs of collaborative courses sharing a single community of learners; and developmental courses in reading, writing and math, designed to prepare students for the rigors of college level instruction. The study looked at the makeup of the students who participated in each of the environments and the appeal to different demographic groups of students in reference to age categories, gender, race, first generation students and low income students. The study then focused on the outcomes of term GPA and credits retained in effectiveness of the project on student persistence from fall to spring.

Findings of the study revealed that participation in learning communities had a significant effect on persistence from fall to spring. Other significant contributing factors that enhanced persistence were the retention of credits during the term and term GPA. While not analyzed for statistical significance in this research study, additional findings indicated that students in the project retained credits at a much higher rate than a similar group of students who were not in the project. The same findings were found when looking at students who participated in at least one of the environments over students who did not participate in any of the environments.