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ERIC Number: ED518755
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Apr
Pages: 4
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 28
ISSN: ISSN-1526-2049
How Non-Academic Supports Work: Four Mechanisms for Improving Student Outcomes. CCRC Brief. Number 54
Karp, Melinda Mechur
Community College Research Center, Columbia University
College success requires more than the ability to master college-level academic skills. Students must learn to navigate an unfamiliar campus, satisfy bureaucratic requirements, meet new expectations (Shields, 2002), and engage in new types of interpersonal relationships (Dickie & Farrell, 1991). Academically vulnerable students--those who are most likely to encounter difficulties in understanding and enacting college expectations--are often enrolled at two-year colleges and open-access, four-year commuter colleges. Improving non-academic support systems at these institutions could improve outcomes for students at risk of postsecondary failure. Non-academic support activities are presumed to encourage academic success but are not overtly academic. While structured programs that encourage non-academic support often also have an academic component, academic and non-academic supports address different skills and encourage student success via different processes. This Brief, based on a longer literature review, identifies the processes by which non-academic supports can help students remain enrolled in college, earn good grades, and earn a credential. Identifying these processes allows a deeper understanding of how interventions may help create successful college students and the conditions that may lead students to become "integrated" or "committed." By articulating the processes by which non-academic supports help students succeed, this Brief also provides practitioners with a better understanding of the elements necessary for successful non-academic support efforts. The major theories of student persistence (Bean & Metzner, 1985; Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004; Braxton, Sullivan, & Johnson, 1997; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1993) argue, in various ways, that persistence in postsecondary education is influenced by a combination of pre-existing characteristics, external forces, and institutional factors. They also argue that to stay enrolled, students must believe that higher education is an important part of their lives, and that this belief is harder to develop for nontraditional students, including part-time, commuter, and older students. These theories--particularly Tinto's--are the dominant frame through which researchers and practitioners view student success, but they provide little guidance for community colleges. Because they are based on the experiences of students for whom the four-year, residential model--replete with opportunities for integration and connectedness--is the norm, they do not accurately represent the experiences of many students attending two-year institutions. Further, many of the dominant theories lack a clear understanding of how student persistence occurs. Empirical tests of theories rooted in Tinto's integration framework demonstrate that integration and commitment are related to student success, but they do not explain how students become integrated. Many efforts to put these theories into practice have floundered due to an incomplete understanding of what contexts, structures, and experiences lead to students' postsecondary integration. This Brief aims to extend these theories by shifting attention toward the mechanisms by which student success occurs. [For related report, "Toward a New Understanding of Non-Academic Student Support: Four Mechanisms Encouraging Positive Student Outcomes in the Community College. CCRC Working Paper No. 28. Assessment of Evidence Series," see ED516148.]
Community College Research Center. Available from: CCRC Publications. Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street Box 174, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 212-678-3091; Fax: 212-678-3699; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education; Two Year Colleges
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Authoring Institution: Columbia University, Community College Research Center