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What Works: Learning Outcomes Due to Design Variations in Community College Student Success Courses

by Deryl K. Hatch-Tocaimaza, Crystal E. Garcia, Naomi Mardock-Uman, Sarah L. Rodriguez & Dallin George Young - 2019

Background/Context: Based on well-established evidence that certain student success skills and college knowledge are closely associated with academic achievement, persistence, and completion, community colleges increasingly implement various types of first-year student success courses and programs. However, by looking only at the distal impact of program participation, the question of whether these programs actually influence those mediating skills of college success has scarcely been investigated in the higher education literature, let alone which program features may be determining factors.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examined the scope and design of community college student success courses to address which program features relate to learning objectives of student success skills, college knowledge, and engagement.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Participants were students and instructors drawn from 47 student success course sections at 42 public community colleges in 24 states, representing all U.S. geographic regions.

Research Design: The study adopted a multimodal research design, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods while primarily relying on quantitative analysis.

Data Collection and Analysis: Students in selected student success course sections completed a pre- and postsurvey. Instructors participated in a structured interview and provided course syllabi. Course design information was quantitized and merged with student-level data to model variation in learning outcomes as a function of course features, according to an activity theory conceptual framework. Data were analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling.

Conclusions: Findings from this research point to several recommendations for practice by highlighting the reality that one term may be too little to learn some student success skills and that particular features of course designs may result in unintended adverse effects. Results indicate that structural elements are the most impactful features and that the skills-based curricular features that receive the most attention may be in fact the least influential features in realizing desired skills and knowledge outcomes. The study points to methodological ways forward to further explore and unpack the relationship between success course design features and educational outcomes.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 7, 2019, p. 1-46
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22697, Date Accessed: 1/18/2021 3:39:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Deryl Hatch-Tocaimaza
    University of Nebraska–Lincoln
    E-mail Author
    DERYL K. HATCH-TOCAIMAZA is an assistant professor of educational administration at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. His research focuses on environments of community colleges and broad access institutions—from structural and programmatic contexts to external demographic and sociological influences that shape them—to uncover how they foster or hinder equitable access, quality, and success in higher education, particularly for individuals from marginalized, traditionally underserved, and underrepresented groups. His recent scholarship includes coauthored pieces “Best laid plans: An activity systems analysis of how community college student success courses work,” published in Community College Review, and “Variation within the ‘new Latino diaspora’: A decade of changes across the U.S. in the equitable participation of Latina/os in higher education,” published in the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education.
  • Crystal Garcia
    Auburn University
    E-mail Author
    CRYSTAL E. GARCIA is an assistant professor in administration of higher education at Auburn University. She adopts a critical lens in the examination of two interconnected areas of research: (1) the relationship between institutional environments and college student experiences, specifically in relation to campus climates, inclusivity, and the role of student services, and (2) the learning, development, and socialization of graduate students in higher education programs. Her recent publications include coauthored articles, “Best laid plans: An activity systems analysis of how community college student success courses work,” published in Community College Review, and “Latino men in two-year public colleges: State-level enrollment changes and equity trends over the last decade,” published in the Journal of Applied Research in the Community College.
  • Naomi Mardock-Uman
    Metropolitan Community College
    E-mail Author
    NAOMI MARDOCK-UMAN is an English-as-a-second language instructor at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, and a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and higher education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her current research focuses on the experiences of linguistic minority students in community colleges and the institutional practices that influence their postsecondary access and success.
  • Sarah Rodriguez
    Iowa State University
    E-mail Author
    SARAH L. RODRIGUEZ is an assistant professor of higher education/community college leadership at Iowa State University. Dr. Rodriguez has three interrelated lines of inquiry: (1) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) environments and identity development in higher education, (2) Latina/o student success in higher education, and (3) the role of community colleges in promoting educational success. Her recent work includes coauthored pieces, “STEM identity development for Latinas: The role of self- and outside recognition,” published in the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, and “Creating change, managing institutional resources: A qualitative analysis of how community colleges in Texas prioritize resources to provide targeted programming for Latino men,” published in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice.
  • Dallin Young
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    DALLIN GEORGE YOUNG is the assistant director for research, grants, and assessment at the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina. His research agenda coalesces around questions of how higher education socializes students to engage in academic and professional communities of practice. Specifically, he has led studies focused on outcomes of postsecondary education, the impact of professional standards in higher education, and structural features of student transition programs. His recent publications include “To pay or not to pay: The influence of compensation as an external reward on learning outcomes of peer leaders” in the Journal of College Student Development and “The case for an integrated approach to transition programmes in South Africa’s higher education institutions” in the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa.
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