Research in Higher Education

, Volume 51, Issue 8, pp 724–749 | Cite as

The Bird’s Eye View of Community Colleges: A Behavioral Typology of First-Time Students Based on Cluster Analytic Classification

  • Peter Riley BahrEmail author


The development of a typology of community college students is a topic of long-standing and growing interest among educational researchers, policy-makers, administrators, and other stakeholders, but prior work on this topic has been limited in a number of important ways. In this paper, I develop a behavioral typology based on students’ course-taking and other enrollment patterns during a seven-year observation period. Drawing on data for a population of 165,921 first-time college students, I identify six clusters of behaviors: transfer, vocational, drop-in, noncredit, experimental, and exploratory. I describe each of these student types in terms of distinguishing course-taking and enrollment behaviors, representation in the first-time student cohort, predominant demographic characteristics, and self-reported academic goal. I test the predictive validity of the classification scheme with respect to long-term academic outcomes. I investigate the relationships between the primary classification scheme and several alternative classification schemes. Finally, I demonstrate the replicability of the classification scheme with an alternate cohort of students.


Community college Student Taxonomy Typology Classification Cluster analysis Transfer Persistence Retention Experimental Exploratory Vocational Noncredit 



The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions and suggestions of Patrick Perry, Willard Hom, Alice van Ommeren, LeAnn Fong-Batkin, Craig Hayward, Michelle Barton, Colleen Moore, Nancy Shulock, Jeremy Offenstein, Jim Fillpot, Robert Johnstone, Edward Karpp, and Catharine Liddicoat, as well as the assistance of Waldo Galindo, Myrna Huffman, and Tom Nobert. This study was supported with funds provided by the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary EducationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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