Left in the Hall

New survey reveals nearly a third of community college students were unable to enroll in course of choice last semester.
February 9, 2011

Nearly a third of community college students were unable to enroll in one or more classes last semester because they were full, according to a new national survey.

Commissioned by the Pearson Foundation, the survey was conducted by Harris Interactive between Sept. 27 and Nov. 4, 2010, amid an enrollment crunch at many community colleges around the country. Responses from the 1,434 students ages 18-59 who participated in the survey were weighted to be representative of the U.S. community college student population.

Even the 22 percent of community college students who took placement tests had difficulties enrolling in the courses in which they placed. Nearly 30 percent of students who took English or mathematics placement tests were unable to enroll in all of their recommended courses last semester. Experts on remedial education say students have a better chance of success if they are helped immediately, rather than being allowed to take other courses that they may fail without necessary training.

On the whole, community college students enrolled in fewer courses than they had originally planned for last semester. The average student planned to take 3.3 courses but ultimately enrolled in 2.9 courses. Many educators argue that community college students who carry heavier course loads and continue to make consistent progress toward a credential have a greater chance of completion.

Even for students who ultimately were able to enroll in courses of their choice, the difficulties of enrollment were among the student gripes highlighted in the survey. Not surprisingly, given record enrollments and lengthy waiting lists, California students were the most likely to have experienced “difficulty in enrolling" — not necessarily that they could not ultimately enroll — in courses needed last semester: 31 percent of them reported problems enrolling, compared to 18 percent of non-Californians.

Students also answered questions about the scheduling changes they made in the first few weeks of the semester. Around 15 percent of students reported that they dropped a course last semester. More men than women dropped a course (18 percent compared to 13 percent). Students with children in their household were also more likely than others to drop a course; 21 percent of them did so. In addition, students enrolled in remedial courses were more likely than those who were not to drop a course (22 percent compared to 14 percent).

The demographic profile also indicated that students enrolled part-time and students employed full-time were at a greater risk of dropping out.

The most cited reasons for dropping a course included “having the course turn out to be different from what students expected or losing interest in the course” (27 percent), “not liking the professor (25 percent), “having a heavy workload in the course” (24 percent), and “performing poorly in the course” (20 percent).

Perhaps most troubling of all the survey results, 74 percent of those who dropped out of a course “did not discuss their intentions with instructors or advisors" — this despite the fact that about two-thirds of the community college students surveyed agreed that “it is extremely or very important to have access to academic advisors and to establish relationships with professors.”


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