How to make it through community college

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In February, the U.S. Department of Education released a report on the educational careers of traditional-age college students who enter community colleges. Author Clifford Adelman, a top researcher at the department, spoke with Catalyst Chicago about the course-taking habits of students who were likely to earn an associate’s degree or transfer to a university, and offered the following advice to students.

Don’t wait to enroll

“Enter directly from high school, please. You improve the chances you’re going to get an associate’s degree by 12 percent.”

Don’t take time off

“You can take off a semester. Take two off, it’s death. [Continuous enrollment] increases the probability you will transfer or get an associate’s degree by 20 percent or more.”

Don’t drop lots of courses

“If you withdraw and repeat more than one in five of your courses, that’s going to decrease the probability you will transfer or get an associate’s degree by a minimum of 23 percent, going up as far as 40 percent.”

Do take summer classes

“Earning four or more credits in summer school has a staggering impact on transfers.” Students who earn these credits are 20 percent more likely to transfer to 4-year institutions. Some of this reflects the attributes of people who are likely to continue their education. “The transfer people are high-octane persistence people, and summer school is what they do.”

Taking summer classes also makes it easier to get through college by lightening the load each semester. For example, a student who takes two courses in the summer can take one less course each semester during the regular year. “What summer-term enrollment lets you do is even out your stress over the year.”