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New Report: Supporting Student Success at Community Colleges

What goals are community college students trying to achieve through their education? What challenges are they facing? What services might help them succeed?

These questions are at the center of a multi-year research project that Ithaka S+R and Northern Virginia Community College, along with six other community college partners and with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), are currently undertaking. Today, we’re issuing our first report from the project, Amplifying Student Voices: The Community College Libraries and Academic Support for Student Success Project. Through this project, we are exploring (1) how “student success” can be defined in a way that is inclusive of both policy priorities and students’ own needs, and (2) what services colleges and their academic libraries can offer to most effectively help students attain success.

In the first phase of this project, we conducted semi-structured interviews with students at our seven partner colleges: Northern Virginia Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Queensborough Community College, Bronx Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Monroe Community College, and Pierce College.

Across these institutions, we found that students:

  • View community college as an accessible option – in terms of location, transportation options, and cost – that fits their complex lives and needs.
  • Have complex definitions of success that focus on both their career and educational achievement as well as their personal development.
  • Face significant challenges related to balancing work and school, finances, childcare arrangements, language barriers, transportation to and from the college, and navigating resources and services at their college.
  • Complete their coursework in a variety of places depending on their individual needs and resources available, but generally want to avoid distractions and noise while working.
  • Do not find it difficult to locate the information they need for their coursework and have a particular affinity for using Google when doing so. They tend to rely heavily on their professors for providing guidance on resources to use when completing assignments.

In the coming year, we will develop new service concepts to meet these student-identified needs and will assess these concepts via survey at each of the partner community colleges later this year. We will publish a separate report of findings from the aggregate results from these surveys in 2019. We will also publish a toolkit that can be further adopted by both community colleges and community college systems to test these service concepts themselves or develop and assess additional service concepts specifically relevant to their populations. We look forward continuing to share findings as our work on this project proceeds.


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services RE-96-17-0113-17.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s approximately 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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