Low-skilled community college students should take classes that teach study skills, time management and "college knowledge," according to a recommendation from the California Community Colleges says Success Task Force.
The task force believes "student life skills courses may contribute to positive outcomes by helping students early in the college experience to develop clearer goals for education and careers, better ideas of what it takes to succeed in college, and some practical skills useful for achievement," reported Louis Freedberg and Monique Smith of EdSource.
Their theory is confirmed by a considerable body of research. Students who complete study and life skills courses were more likely to earn a community college credential, transfer to the state university system, or still be enrolled in college after five years, according to a 2006 study conducted by the Florida Department of Education. A later study showed a "positive relationship between taking a student life skills course and various student success indicators — credential completion, persistence, and transfer."
But making these classes mandatory would further burden a college system that is financially underwater. One solution may be to import a program pioneered by Great Britain's Open University, which offers free online classes to help "ill-prepared, self-conscious" students adapt to college work.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is at the forefront of this effort. They have invested $750,000 through an initiative called Next Generation Learning Challenges to open two free open-university programs for use at U.S. colleges and universities, reported the Community College Spotlight. One program is meant to help students with math so they do better on placement tests or move more quickly through remedial courses. The other program is to teach study skills and other things they'll need to know to be ready for college.
Still, some educators are concerned about attrition in online courses. Online courses are more challenging for community college students, according to a Washington state study by the Community College Research Center. Online students were more likely to drop out than those who took the same courses in conventional classrooms. "There's really no substitute for having a good teacher who is personable and can help students overcome some of that anxiety," says Daniel Symancyk, a mathematics professor at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Md.
Some universities, like BYU-Idaho, are finding innovative ways to help through online classes.