Public Agenda

Student Voices on Community College Completion

For many young Americans, community college represents one of the few remaining pathways to the American Dream—in fact, community colleges serve nearly half of the nation's undergraduate population. Yet less than half of the country's community college students graduate or transfer within 6 years.

Efforts to improve student learning and success at community colleges are in the spotlight, both in national policy and on community college campuses around the country. One of the central tenets of these efforts is to keep changes and improvements “student-centered”—that is, to keep the ultimate goal of improving the student experience in sight throughout the process of change.

Research and experience demonstrate that there are critical junctures along the pathway to community college completion where students tend to lose momentum and drop out. As we strive to improve the community college student experience, we must identify and address those junctures and listen to what students themselves have to say about what will help them maintain and increase momentum.

Keeping students’ voices and experiences at the center of reform plans can enhance the legitimacy of proposed reforms, their effectiveness, and their sustainability.

As part of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Initiative, Completion By Design, Public Agenda, in partnership with WestEd, spoke to current and former community college students in a series of focus groups in March 2012, to listen to what they had to say about the relationship between their goals for, and experiences in, college.

We paid special attention to examining how some students succeed, why some do not, and what students think could have helped them be more successful. For example, we asked students how important they believed it was to have a concrete end goal in mind early in their college careers. We also asked at what point during their college experience did they feel they should be encouraged to narrow their focus toward a specific goal, whether academic or professional? What would they describe as the most promising changes that colleges could make to help them complete their degree or transfer to a four-year institution?

View the Video


The video, "Student Voices on the Pathway to Completion," follows community college students as they talk about what helps and hinders them in their college experience. The video puts community college students' questions, concerns and experiences at the forefront in order to provoke our thinking, raise questions, and spark conversations and action planning for student success. How can community colleges improve the roadmap and help students realize their goals?


Completion By Design is an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Strategy. Suggested Citation: (2012). Student Voices on the Higher Education Pathway: Preliminary Insights & Stakeholder Engagement Considerations. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.



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Student Voices on the Higher Education Pathway

Preliminary Insights & Stakeholder Engagement Considerations

Media Type: PDF

With 44% of all U.S. undergraduates attending community colleges, efforts to improve student success at these institutions continue to capture the national policy spotlight.

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