Best Practices in Student Persistence and Completion: A Program Evaluation of Three Student Services Units in a Rural Community College
Student services units in community colleges are now encouraged to assume a larger role in supporting student retention and are charged with implementing intervention strategies that improve student success and persistence. Yet, many community colleges, especially those in rural communities, struggle to define the role of student services in improving retention, especially between the first and second semesters. A process program evaluation of three student services units at a rural Missouri community college was conducted in order to assess whether the outputs (activities) identified in the logic models for each of the three units had occurred. At the conclusion of the process evaluation the evaluators intended to conduct an impact evaluation. Typical of convergent parallel designs, an electronic survey was utilized that simultaneously yielded both quantitative and qualitative data of the three units. Both sets of data were at first analyzed separately and then in parallel. There were two significant findings. The primary service offered in each unit was identified as academic advising and that: (1) each utilized developmental, intrusive, and prescriptive advising strategies coupled with career advising, and (2) other best practices employed include relationship building, individualized goal setting with students, collaborative partnerships for programming, interventions that provide academic supports, responsiveness to student referrals, and workshops that promote persistence and retention. Although some best practices are currently in place, it is recommended that each unit assess their practices with regard to the standards set forth by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). These standards emphasize academic advising as integral to student persistence, retention and graduation.