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Students stay longer than planned at community colleges

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Cosumnes River College is a two-year community college, but two years is a reality for few people.

A 2012 study done on CRC showed that 7 percent of students graduated within that expected time frame, according to the College Navigator of National Center for Education Statistics.

“I don’t think it is a two-year college,” said Estella Hoskins, CRC counselor. “It usually takes about three years to graduate, but it depends on your major. Students in high-unit majors can be here for much longer.”

On top of the time it takes to graduate, about 26 percent of students make it to graduation.

But it’s not just CRC; It’s public community colleges in America in general, as 25 percent of students on average transfer when 80 percent intend to get a bachelor’s degree, according to the nation-wide research of the Community College Research Center. There are many factors that contribute to that.

“Two years just isn’t realistic unless somehow you know exactly what major you want and plan all classes beforehand,” said 20-year-old film studies major Emily Lotz who is in her fifth semester and hopes to receive her AA this semester before she goes to study abroad and pursue an RTVF degree.

The same 2012 study shows that 39 percent of the graduates graduated within twice as long as the expected time frame, which would be closer to four years.

“You have to get help right up front. Many students wait until midterms,” said Hoskins. Hoskins, who attended CRC herself, suggests students meet with a counselor once a semester.

“I had to basically start over because I switched majors,” Hoskins said. “I had two jobs the entire time, which is another reason. Some classes you need just don’t line up your work schedule. Every minute of every day is planned out. You have to work the system to make it work at all,” she said.

Having a job is a serious struggle for many students trying to get by while attending college. This is a reality for 21-year-old Eric Bell, who has been at CRC for three years and is working to support himself financially.

“I hope to be done in fall 2017, but I have a spring semester set aside just in case,” Bell said. This could mean close to five years. “I have two jobs and work 32 hours a week, plus having family obligations. There is no time for my personal life.”

The reality is 56 percent of students attend a public community college for their continued education, according to the CCRC. And, according to the Hechinger Report, fewer than one in seven community college students transfer and get a bachelor’s degree.

“I had a coworker who was taking 18 units and had to quit her job to balance work. It’s hard to nail down everything you need, and it’s not just counselors, it’s a lot of things and our generation is completely lost,” said Lotz.

“We get to college seeing that I can do whatever I want, but now I don’t know what I want to do.”

The transfer and career center offers guidance to students who need to get on track to receive their degree.

“Talk to a counselor and get an academic plan because that is key. If they are undecided on a major, come to the transfer center and workshop events on campus for support,” said Emily Barkley, student personnel assistant for counseling & student services.

“Make sure you are taking enough classes and completing classes. Many students drop classes for other priorities, but it is important that you pass all of your classes,” said Barkley.

Barkley attributed multiple factors such as student placement in math and English, which many students leave to the end, and students are in high-unit majors with prerequisites, and some are thrown out of sequence of those classes needed.

“Also, sometimes it’s course availability, and a lot of that is limited to the number of instructors and facilities we have,” she said.

“It’s multiple different factors that play against each other that makes college difficult,” Bell said.

CRC President Edward Bush recognizes the problem faced by so many and hopes to change the way the system is working.

“My goal is to redesign the college to have a path. It’s two years for people without general education of math and English, and depending on where people place, it can take a year to complete just that. So it’s more about setting two-year and three-year pathways,” said Bush.

Bush has been making changes to the school in his first year, and this has been on his list. He also acknowledges the hardships of students who work while attending college.

“It’s a struggle for students balancing their job schedules as well, so I would like to block-schedule students and offer classes during times that they can manage, from morning to evening blocks because it’s so hard to plan for both,” said Bush.

“Hopefully down the road we can get the sophistication as an institution to have a proper student approach to scheduling and success.”

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Students stay longer than planned at community colleges