- Academic Advising and the Persistence Intentions of Community College Students in their First Weeks in College
Persistence of community college students is a serious and perennial concern with numerous published figures illustrating the daunting odds that students and institutions face along their path to college completion (Calcagno, Crosta, Bailey, & Jenkins, 2007; Provasnik & Planty, 2008). Although researchers have made headway in identifying influential factors in students’ successful persistence along that path, evidence suggests that attrition in community colleges can begin to occur within the first term and even between enrollment and the first day of class (Bailey, 2009; Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2010; Brooks-Leonard, 1991). While some researchers have explored the critical role of the early weeks of college experiences in student success (Astin, 1993; Tinto, 1988; Woosley, 2003; Woosley & Miller, 2009), studies specific to retention [End Page 353] and persistence regarding this timeframe remain scarce, especially in the two-year college sector where 4 out of 10 new college students enroll (American Association of Community Colleges, 2015) and where student persistence issues are qualitatively different from the four-year sector (M. W. Webb, 1989).
Given community colleges’ open enrollment policies and their numerous instructional missions (A. M. Cohen & Brawer, 2008), students enter and re-enter with various and often multiple objectives but not always with clear knowledge of how to clarify and accomplish them. The first few weeks present opportunities and pitfalls as new or re-entering students encounter institutional processes that enhance or detract from students’ ability to start right on their path. Scott-Clayton (2011) compared the typical community college intake process to navigating a shapeless river on a dark night where “many students make false starts, take wrong turns, and hit unexpected obstacles” (p. 1). Some of these obstacles have the potential to impact persistence decisions from the outset. Despite Barnett’s (2011) observation that we need a greater focus on community college classroom practices related to persistence, it remains true that, at least for the first weeks, an entering community college student’s experience is characterized as much by the classroom experience as it is by early procedures and processes such as registration, placement, orientation, financial aid, and particularly academic advising (King, 1993). Even seemingly less critical intake procedures have been connected to student persistence within the community college literature such as registration timing (Hale & Bray, 2011; Smith, Street, & Olivarez, 2002) and course adding and dropping behaviors (Hagedorn, Maxwell, Cypers, Moon, & Lester, 2007).
Among early intake activities, the role of academic advising in particular has been connected to student persistence (King, 1993; Young, Backer, & Rogers, 1989), even as relatively few studies have presented empirical evidence supporting these claims (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005). What evidence we do have is in fact sparse and largely based on student perceptions of the quality of advising (Elliott & Healy, 2001; Metzner, 1989; Metzner & Bean, 1987) and frequency of advising sessions (Shields, 1994; Swecker, Fifolt, & Searby, 2013) rather than the nature and scope of issues addressed and tasks completed during advising sessions. Furthermore, most studies come from the context of four-year institutions where the overall intake process differs dramatically from the community college sector where students often sign up within weeks or days of the first class sessions sometimes without prior contact with the college. Without a more nuanced understanding of advising and its role during the overall intake process than what the current research affords, community college practitioners are limited in knowing how and when to most effectively deploy scarce advising resources.
Thus, the purpose of this study is to understand how different kinds of advising activities during the first three weeks for community college students who enroll for the first time relate to their intentions to re-enroll. [End Page 354]
Operationalizing Academic Advising in Persistence Studies
Academic advising has been proposed as among some of the most impactful interventions for mitigating early community college student departure (King, 1993). King (1993) reasoned that because “academic advising is the only structured service on our [community college] campuses that guarantees students some kind of interaction with concerned representatives of the institutions” (pp. 21-22), it may be the most...