Study shows community college students are not prepared for college level work

Nancy Huang

Community college students are not prepared for college-level work, according to a study by UT’s Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). 

National Student Clearinghouse reports only 39 percent of community college students earn a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree within six years. Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of CCCSE, said the survey, titled “Expectations Meet Reality: The Underprepared Student and Community Colleges,” found most students who enter community college need remedial classes.

“We knew that many students were coming to college unprepared for college-level work,” Waiwaiole said. “Nationally we know that about 60 percent of students come to community colleges needing one form of developmental education.”

Waiwaiole said the breadth of the survey was very extensive.

“There are 1100 community colleges across the country,” Waiwaiole said. “This report surveyed 70,000 community college students at 150 of those colleges.”

Waiwaiole said placement tests, which determine which course level students should enroll in, are not effective in determining students’ academic ability.  

“Well, for most students who come to community college … they have not taken the SAT or ACT, and they’re gonna take a placement test to find out where they place,” Waiwaiole said. “There are real concerns over the placement test and how it places students.” 

The report also examined the alternative of substituting placement scores with high school transcripts, which resulted in better overall performance.

“Davidson County Community College, what they did, is instead of [using placement tests], they said ‘we’re going to use what we call multiple measures,’” Waiwaiole said. “So for students coming right out of high school, they were going to use the student’s GPAs instead of their placement tests. Truthfully, in community colleges, that’s quite revolutionary.”

Waiwaiole said though there are improvements, community colleges are still struggling to prepare students because they are being placed in the wrong courses. 

“We’re seeing some really positive outcomes,” Waiwaiole said. “But the reality is that 87 percent of [community college students] are still taking the placement test.”

Glenda Barron, president of Temple College, one of the schools surveyed, said Temple College is excited to be part of the survey. The college does not use placement tests.

“Temple College is committed to helping our students succeed,” Barron said. “CCCSE provides very useful information to inform our efforts.”

Matt Harding, an ACC government student, said the placement tests aren’t comprehensive.

“It’s scary to think about,” Harding said. “The level of preparedness shouldn’t be that low.”