The effects of closed courses

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Not getting into a course because it has reached its capacity can potentially have significant effects on community college students, even leading to them dropping out, according to a new research brief.

Students at one California community college who were shut out of a desired course because it was full were 25% more likely to drop out that term, says the brief by Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research, which is located at the University of California, Davis.

The center studied data on students from De Anza College in Silicon Valley who were waitlisted for courses in order to determine potential effects on students unable to take the course they want. The point of the brief is to illustrate possible impacts on community college students if the state cuts funding for two-year institutions right as students may start returning to campuses post-covid. (The brief noted community colleges currently don’t face a state funding shortfall, but there is concern state lawmakers could in the future cut funding, especially in light of dropping enrollments.)

Community college courses are already frequently “over-subscribed,” the center says. In its sample for the study, 68% of STEM course sections, 60% of social science sections and half of arts and humanities sections had waitlists.

“Limited course availability could inconvenience student schedules, delay degree completion or, at worse, increase dropout rates,” the brief says.

The center also examined the longer-term effects of students being shut out of desired courses. Two years later, these students were more likely to transfer to another community college, especially minority students. Asian students who didn’t get their course were more likely to transfer to a four-year institution, it notes.

The center says it didn’t find any effects on students attaining an associate or bachelor’s degree overall based on the five-year period it examined. However, it notes that it could be because students who reduced their course load due to the waitlist were unlikely to complete degrees in the first place. It might also be that the five-year window is too short to see impacts on such long-term outcomes.

Finally, the center says it studied only single-course shutouts.

“Students may be shut out of multiple courses throughout their college careers, however, and the cumulative impact of limit course availability on course-taking, transfers and degree receipt may be larger,” it says.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.