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Intensity and Attachment: How the Chaotic Enrollment Patterns of Community College Students Affect Educational Outcomes

By: Peter M. Crosta


This paper examines the relationship between community college enrollment patterns and two successful student outcomes—credential completion and transfer to a four-year institution. It also introduces a new way of visualizing the various attendance patterns of community college students. Patterns of enrollment intensity (full-time or part-time status) and continuity (enrolling in consecutive terms or skipping one or more terms) are graphed and then clustered according to their salient features.

Using data on cohorts of first-time community college students at five colleges in a single state, the author finds that, over an 18-semester period, 10 patterns of attendance account for nearly half the students. Among the remaining students who persisted, there is astounding variation in their patterns of enrollment. Clustering these patterns reveals two relationships: the first is a positive association between enrollment continuity and earning a community college credential, and the second is a positive association between enrollment intensity and likelihood of transfer.

A verson of this paper appears in the Community College Review, vol. 42, no. 2.

An interview with the author in a Community College Review podcast is also available.