Student Support Services: Their Possibilities and Limits

Authors: 
Year of publication: 
December 2011
Publication: 
Policy Analysis for California Education

In the fourth of eleven PACE Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al, continue their analysis of basic skills education in California Community Colleges.

Community colleges provide a substantial array of student support services, designed to help students master basic subjects and to learn “how to be college students.” However, the use of these services by instructors and students varies substantially. Some instructors rarely or never mention the availability of such services; others make the use of some services mandatory. But the largely voluntary nature of student services means that many students do not use these services, for reasons ranging from competing demands for their time to avoidance of stigma or stereotype threat. The result is general consensus that the students who most need support services fail to get them — except where colleges have moved to portray such services as “what all good students do.”

Student services suffer from certain structural problems. One is related to funding, since students services (unlike conventional instruction) do not generate additional revenues for colleges. The large number of adjunct faculty members, especially in developmental education, also complicates contact between instruction and student services. The nature of most colleges as laissez-faire institutions, reluctant to place requirements on either students or instructors, contributes to the voluntary use of student services. Various ways of reshaping student services therefore require challenging conventional practices and norms of community colleges, but the results have the promise of making the entire enterprise of developmental education more effective.

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