Community College Student Success: from Boardrooms to Classrooms

Vanessa Smith Morest, Rowman & Littlefield (2013)  

This Resource Review was peer-reviewed by members of the AIR publications volunteer panel, and the ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting below. 

Reviewed by Tara M. Cope 


Community College Student Success is the third book in the American Council on Education’s series on community colleges. The series is designed to bring multiple perspectives to current issues in community college education. Over the course of seven chapters, Morest addresses the difference between students at community colleges and four-year institutions, and identifies numerous barriers to the success of community college students.  

The first chapter provides a brief overview of community college education. The author notes that the success rate of community college students, as measured by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) graduation rates, is less than the success rate of students at four-year institutions. Morest argues that community college students are not as successful because of academic, social, and financial barriers, which she addresses in-depth in Chapters 2-4.   

Chapter 2 covers remedial education, the main academic barrier to community college student success. Chapter 3 addresses students’ lack of social integration into the community college, and Chapter 4 covers student finances. More specifically, Chapter 4 addresses the fact that community college students have numerous time and financial commitments that make it difficult for them to focus on school. This chapter also addresses the importance of career and technical education programs at community colleges. Such programs are especially important for those students who are interested in taking courses and/or getting degrees with the goal of moving into higher paying jobs in the local workforce.   

In addition to those students who wish to find better jobs, there are many students who attend community colleges with the intent to transfer to four-year institutions. Transfer is covered in detail in Chapter 5. The last two chapters of the book focus on community college reform. Chapter 6 covers the difficulty of implementing changes at community colleges and offers suggestions for changing this culture. Chapter 7 includes a summary of the previous six chapters along with recommended reform efforts to address the barriers to student success.   

Each chapter in Community College Student Success takes the form of a detailed literature review of one of the main topics: remediation, social integration, student finances, workforce education, student transfer, and reform. Morest concisely summarizes the research efforts in each area over the past 15 years, draws conclusions, and notes limitations of data sets and studies. Each chapter concludes with a list of recommended changes that can be implemented to make improvements based on successful initiatives at community colleges throughout the United States. 

Through the research summaries, the author provides a great deal of support for her main argument that community college students are less successful because they are academically weak, spend limited time on campus, and are unable to juggle the stress of school and work. Morest also provides a great deal of support for the argument that in order for reform to occur, community colleges must experience cultural changes in accountability, renewed focus on curricula and pedagogy, and implement distributed leadership models instead of a hierarchical leadership models. 

The book has numerous strengths, including support for the main arguments, and few limitations. Overall, the topics included in the book are current and are covered in-depth from numerous angles. The book is written at a level that makes it easily accessible to all stakeholders in community college education, from students and parents to administrators and faculty. The author states that “this book is about cultural change leading to educational reform at community colleges” (p. 12). While the book covers cultural change in the reform chapters, it contains a wealth of information about each topic area beyond cultural change. The book offers numerous concrete examples of initiatives that can be adapted by institutional research professionals or other community college leaders for use at their own institutions.  It is recommended reading for anyone who is interested in studying student success at community colleges and for any leader looking for innovative ideas.  

Tara M. Cope is a Research Assistant in the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation at SUNY Adirondack. 



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Total Comments: 3
Christine posted on 8/15/2013 9:17 AM
With the current economy, we see more and more high performing students from lower socio-economic backgrounds taking the route you mentioned of attending community college for a year or two with the intent of transferring to a four-year college or university to save overall costs expended. This will be an interesting area to study in the next few years to see if this is a short-term anomaly or a long-term trend.
Marlene posted on 8/15/2013 9:35 AM
Thanks for making us aware of this helpful resource!
Eric posted on 8/16/2013 12:17 PM
Thank you for this review, Tara! Just yesterday at the community college where I work, the president spent nearly a full hour sharing data and student success stories to remind all faculty and staff that first and foremost, we serve STUDENTS. This new book will be a useful resource!