Community college first-year seminar courses and persistence to degree: a qualitative exploration of graduating students perceptions of course components
As access to higher education has continuously risen throughout the second half of the twentieth century, community college student success has not kept pace. Within this climate, institutions look to cost-effective initiatives and programs to encourage student success in order to produce more certificate and degree earners. While many first-year experience community college programs appear to increase institutional retention and student success, first-year seminars are best poised to provide academic and social support to community college students with varying levels of academic and social preparedness. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine which first-year seminar course components graduating community college students perceived as most important towards encouraging student persistence. Fink’s (2013) Integrated Course Design (ICD) Model generally, and Taxonomy of Significant Learning specifically, guided and framed the study. The participants in the study included 21 students who reflected the site institutions’ diverse population, and had filed an intent to graduate in spring semester 2017. Data for the study were derived using critical incident and semi-structured interview questionnaires. Data were coded using holistic and in vivo coding methods. Using general pragmatic qualitative research, the researcher conducted a thematic analysis of the data. Four themes emerged from thematic data analysis: (a) Increased Writing Efficiency is Paramount; (b) Competence and Confidence; (c) Campus Integration and Support, and (d) Responsibility and Motivation. Participants perceived that many cognitive and affective were important. However, the first-year seminar instructor as a facilitator of foundational knowledge, and a source of support was perceived by participants as the most important first-year seminar course component. In order to achieve maximum course utility, students should be required to complete the first-year seminar during their initial college semester.