Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15876 Understanding the Community College Experience: The Effects of Integration On Students' Educational Outcomes

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 10:00 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Micaela Mercado, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Durham, NC
Purpose: Low-income and minority students are disproportionately represented in community college enrollment but substantially underrepresented among those attaining associate degrees. Compared to 42 percent of whites, 26 percent of African Americans, and 18 percent of Hispanics and fewer than 20 percent of students in the lowest income quartile attain an associate degree in 6 years of initial enrollment. Tinto's interactionalist theory is a well-known model for explaining exit from higher education. Tinto posits that college departure is conditioned on students' ability to accept and comply with academic norms (i.e., academic integration), and the extent to which the college environment complements their preferences (i.e., social integration). Students at-risk of dropping out of college are less likely to participate in academic activities and fit into the college environment, which in turn, lessen their opportunity for integration, an important component for attaining a degree. The purpose of this paper is to understand student integration by way of interactions with the community college environment, and consequences of these interactions. Specifically, this study examined the effects of academic and social integration on two educational outcomes, persistence and academic performance, controlling for characteristics of the institutions they attended. Methods: Using the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, data from 443 public two-year institutions and 4,819 students surveyed between 2004 and 2006 were used for this study. Academic and social integration were measured by students' integration changes between 2004 and 2006 using dummy variables. Persistence was measured by the number of months a student enrolled in community college between 2003 and 2006. Academic achievement was measured using a students' grade point average in 2006.

Results: Using hierarchical linear modeling, estimation of one-way random effects ANOVA base models indicated significant differences in persistence between community colleges, but no significant differences in academic performance between institutions. Results indicate significant differences in integration for academic performance, but persistence was not significant. Students with increases in academic integration (beta=.07, p=.02) and social integration (beta=.06, p=03) between 2004 and 2006 were more likely to have higher GPAs than their counterparts. Significant finding also suggest students' GPA decreased among students with decreases in social integration (beta=-.10, p=.002) between 2004 and 2006.

Implications: The causes of early college departure comprise individual and institution system levels. Social policies must address the causal factors at both levels to enhance existing student services and to develop innovative programs and strategies to increase students' success in college. First, a data driven system to track academic progress is necessary to examine change in academic integration over time. Second, an early warning system to identify students matriculating with two or more risk factors, may allow colleges to target support services effectively to reduce early college departure. Accordingly, community colleges that use data driven systems and early warning systems may effectively reduce attrition rates while increasing the probability of degree attainment among their student populations.

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