Researchers to meet the challenges of community college students

the Texas Schools Project (TSP) at the University of Texas at Dallas recently received two grants that will support two projects aimed at better understanding some of the challenges community college students face as they pursue a college education.

A $299,274 grant from the Greater Texas Foundation will allow researchers to explore part-time student enrollment patterns at Texas community colleges and identify policies and practical reforms to promote their success.

A second grant of $149,276 from the Trellis Foundation will support research to study the strategies Texas community colleges are using to support student mental health.

“The two projects complement each other pretty well,” said Dr Trey Millerdirector of the TSP and associate professor of economy in the School of Economics, Politics and Policy (EPPS). “One of the factors that may lead some students to want or have to enroll part-time is mental health issues. These projects aim to be aware of these factors, to create an encouraging environment for all students, to meet students where they are, and to help meet their challenges – both in academia and in life – in the purpose of helping students obtain degrees and diplomas. which will result in success.

Understanding Part-Time Enrollment Models

Two-thirds of Texas community college students are enrolled part-time. Just over a third of students who attended part-time at some point graduated within six years, compared to 80% of full-time students.

“The research community and policymakers have basically said the solution to this problem is to do everything possible to get students to enroll full-time,” Miller said. “Many programs focus on full-time students. We believe this really misses the mark and puts a large number of students at risk of not doing well.

The TSP supports independent academic research to inform policy and practice and to improve educational achievement. Improving the quality of education provided to low-income students and students of color is a particular goal of TSP researchers.

Dr Rodney Andrews, Fellow, Vibhooti Shukla Professor of Economics and Political Economy, is Research Director at TSP and Director of its UT Dallas Education Research Center (ERC). Him and Dr. Holly Kosiewicz, a TSP researcher and ERC associate, are co-principal investigators of the two-year Greater Texas Foundation project, along with Miller, who is the principal investigator. Denise Williams, a graduate student in psychology, is a research assistant on both grant projects.

Researchers will analyze administrative data from the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission to identify part-time college enrollment patterns.

They will also interview community college administrators and conduct focus groups with part-time community college students to understand why students enroll part-time and what interventions might help them succeed.

“There are reasons why the only route some students can get into post-secondary education is to enroll part-time,” said Andrews, who is also an associate professor of economics at EPPS. “This research recognizes that there are life events – children, illness and certainly now the COVID-19 pandemic – in which students who wish to go full-time could enroll part-time in response. It is a matter of directing resources to them with the idea of ​​supporting and encouraging their academic success.

Researchers hope the study will lead to a new conceptual model for supporting part-time students and stimulate a productive dialogue among scholars, practitioners, and policymakers that will generate policies to improve academic achievement rates for part-time students. partiel.

Supporting Student Mental Health

With support from the Trellis Foundation, researchers will interview key stakeholders from 10 to 15 community colleges. They aim to identify the challenges institutions face in creating environments and providing services that promote mental well-being and whether these efforts are integrated with strategies to increase college completion.

Kosiewicz, an assistant professor of education at EPPS and the project’s principal investigator, said growing evidence shows that students, especially low-income students and students of color, have mental health issues. .

The COVID-19 pandemic; systemic racism and inequality; political unrest; and economic uncertainty have exacerbated mental health issues for these groups, she said.

According to an assessment conducted by the American College Health Association in 2017, 3 out of 5 undergraduate students reported suffering from depression, anxiety or both, and research shows that poor mental health can impair student achievement. university students, Kosiewicz said.

“Students attending community colleges are more likely to be low-income, students of color, working adults,” she said. “These characteristics make these students more at risk of developing mental health problems. Community colleges are in a unique position to help these students, but they need guidance and support, especially because they have fewer resources at their disposal.

“The two projects complement each other quite well. One factor that may lead some students to want or need to enroll part-time is dealing with mental health issues.

Dr. Trey Miller, director of the Texas Schools Project and associate professor of economics in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

Dr Heidi Kaneassistant professor of psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciencesis co-principal investigator.

Researchers aim to identify where to target and invest scarce resources to improve student mental well-being with the goal of reducing equity gaps and increasing student achievement.

The Trellis Foundation’s 19-month project is aligned with a larger national study led by Rand Corp. and the American Research Institutes with support from UT Dallas. The national study, which received funding from the Institute for Educational Sciences – the statistics, research and evaluation arm of the US Department of Education – will highlight approaches, strategies and mental health care interventions implemented by some US community colleges considered to be at the forefront of addressing the mental health crisis.

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