Center Gets Almost $1 Million to Study Community College Students

Feb. 10, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin's Center for Community College Student Engagement has received almost $1 million in grants to expand its efforts to use student feedback and data to promote community college students' academic success.

MetLife Foundation and Houston Endowment, Inc. awarded the two grants.

The $350,000 grant from MetLife Foundation will allow the Center to extend work on the Starting Right Initiative, which focuses on understanding new students' experiences and helping community colleges curtail the high number of students who drop out during their first semester.

"Our data reveal that most community college students who drop out do so before completing 15 credit hours," says Dr. Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. "This signals that we really need to focus on understanding the earliest experiences of community college students and use the feedback we receive to improve course completion rates and persistence from one academic term to the next.

"Our long-term partnership with MetLife Foundation and the Starting Right Initiative is helping us look beneath the national and institutional statistics, and, through student focus groups, interviews and video documentation, gain even more insight into what will promote student retention and achievement. The MetLife Foundation strongly supports a qualitative investigation of student engagement and has worked to give students a voice through published materials, video segments and conference sessions."

With a grant of $640,000 from Houston Endowment, Inc., the Starting Right Initiative will be able to focus special attention on Houston/Gulf Coast area community colleges. As part of its goal to strengthen involvement of Gulf Coast area institutions in the national Achieving the Dream consortium, Houston Endowment, Inc., also provides funding for the development, piloting, field-testing and national administration of the Center's Survey of Entering Student Engagement.

Starting Right will allow the Center to gather information from community college students as they finish high school and anticipate going to college, as they go through the admissions process, during the first few weeks of their first semester, at the end of their first semester and as they complete their second semester

To learn what keeps students in school as well as factors that contribute to their dropping out, the study will track all students who participate in the initial focus groups – those who continue with their studies as well as those who leave college during their first or second term. Starting Right will capture students' descriptions of their experiences on video.

Colleges participating in Starting Right will receive reports highlighting information gathered from student focus groups and interviews. In addition, all findings from Starting Right will be shared with community college leaders and staff through video, the Web, published materials and presentations at national conferences and individual college workshops.

To learn more about the nationally recognized Center for Community College Student Engagement surveys, resources and partnerships, visit www.enteringstudent.org and www.ccsse.org.

For more information, contact: Kay Randall, College of Education, 512 471 6033.