Sunday, July 17, 2016


Visiting Students

Summer classes are different at community colleges.  Most basically, they tend to feature a lot more “visiting” students.

“Visiting” students are students who are matriculated somewhere else, but are taking classes here with the intention of applying the credits to their degree program.  They may be enrolled at a four-year college or university, and they plan to finish there, but they’re taking some classes with us along the way.  It makes sense for many students for obvious reasons.

Often, though not always, they live away from home at the four-year school, and are home for the summer.  They can work summer jobs and pick up some inexpensive credits while they’re here.  

Lab science classes, especially Biology, tend to be popular.  The smallish section sizes and access to real faculty make them appealing, especially when compared to the 300 student lecture hall they might find elsewhere.  There’s a stereotype (or expectation among some) that the classes here will be “easier,” but that’s usually corrected by the first exam.  Anatomy and Physiology is still Anatomy and Physiology.  The ones who expect to coast learn a hard lesson quickly.

Anecdotally, visiting students tend to be more likely to be traditional college age, and judging by the cars in the parking lot, more affluent than our usual students.  (Brookdale doesn’t separate parking lots by status, so it’s all catch-as-catch-can.  I actually saw a Maserati in the parking lot last week.  That doesn’t happen in September.)  They rarely take developmental classes with us, instead focusing on highly transferable gen ed classes.  

We don’t get any credit for “visiting” students when we talk about graduation rates or enrollment levels, but I think we should.  They’re part of the reason for the disparity between the graduation rates that the cc sector is often criticized for, and the proportion of bachelor’s degree grads in the population with cc credits.  The latter number is nearly half, or almost exactly proportional to the cc share of total undergraduate enrollment.  The University of Delaware student who comes home to Monmouth County for the summer and takes a few classes at Brookdale each year is both saving money and accelerating her progress, but she only shows up in UDel’s numbers.  That’s a distortion.

I haven’t seen any national studies on the effects on degree completion of four-year students taking summer classes at cc’s, though I’d imagine the effect would be positive.  We know that “summer melt” is real, and we know that maintaining academic momentum makes a positive difference.  Keeping cost down helps with overall debt burdens, and may reduce the number of hours that students need to work for pay during the fall and spring semesters.  

Scheduling classes is slightly different for visiting students.  They tend to really like mornings, which makes sense if you think about it; morning classes allow for summer jobs in the afternoons.  The Jersey Shore has an active summer tourism season, so someone who comes home for the summer could fit in a couple of gen eds in the morning and still pick up plenty of hours in the afternoons, the evenings, and/or the weekends.  It seems to be a popular pattern.

Does anyone know whether the effects of “visiting” students taking cc classes in the summer has been studied?  I think we’re doing some real good here, and not getting credit for it, but empirical confirmation would be nice.

No, I don't know of any studies, but that isn't to say that our CC has never looked at those stats. I'm sure we have, because we pay attention to students going both ways. And if not, I know who to ask/suggest. We can certainly track info like ultimate success of that subgroup, but I'm more interested in other questions.

We (meaning I) get a fair fraction of visiting students during a regular semester, but they aren't quite as comman nor usually as good as the summer ones. (In a regular semester I get a mix of good students who put off a class and now can't schedule it at the university, and ones who have already failed once or twice and have a fantasy about "junior" colleges.) Here I am not counting reverse transfers who flunked out, just ones taking a single class. I can tell the difference, because we have a full transcript for the ones who transfered from the Uni to our CC, but it is possible that some of the others are repeating a single class they failed but hadn't flunked out. I'm curious if my anecdotes match reality. Are they significantly better in the summer? And how does their success rate compare to our native students in the summer, since native students also do better in the summer?

What would be very hard to measure is what I see all the time: "our" students get to see how they measure up (pretty well) and "their" students get to see that ours would be co-equal study partners after everyone is in their junior-level classes. They may also see that there is nothing second-rate about our sophomore-level classes, and respect all of our grads. BTW, if it isn't obvious, I am talking about an atypical CC class, physics, where everyone has had calculus. The world of college algebra could be very different. I should ask around.
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It's not just CCs. I taught at Indiana University Northwest, and my summer courses were generally between 10% and 20% students from IU Bloomington or Purdue West Lafayette (in intro econ).For the IUB students, we could have tracked their completion (all one system, and our registrar could access Bloomington student records), but to the best of my knowledge we never did.
I suspect the reason summer BIO classes might be so popular for visiting students is not just avoiding the 300 student lectures, but also the fact that the lab portion of the course is taught by the professor. In my undergrad days, every single lab I took was taught by a graduate student, many of whom were still learning English.
In my undergrad days, every single lab I took was taught by a graduate student

That was the first two years of my undergrad — the general science courses. Once we got to engineering labs, the profs were there with the grad students. Made for a totally different feel to the lab.

Smaller classes probably had a lot to do with that, but the engineering profs were generally more hands-on.
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