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.