Classifying Community Colleges Based on Students’ Patterns of Use
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- Bahr, P.R. Res High Educ (2013) 54: 433. doi:10.1007/s11162-012-9272-5
In this study, I draw on Bahr’s (Research in Higher Education 51:724–749, 2010; New Directions for Institutional Research S1:33–48, 2011) behavioral typology of first-time community college students to examine college-level variation in students’ patterns of use of 105 community colleges in California. I find that students’ patterns of use vary greatly across the colleges, and, further, these patterns tend to cluster in such a fashion that colleges may be classified based on dominant or disproportionate patterns of use. Using k-means cluster analysis, I identify five types of community colleges, including Community Education Intensive, Transfer Intensive, Workforce Development Intensive, High-Risk Intensive, and Mixed Use. I describe each of these community college types and then investigate whether the patterns of student use that characterize the identified types appear to be primarily a consequence of institutional policies and practices or, conversely, a product of localized community demand and the associated circumstances and choices of the students who attend a given college. The evidence, though limited, tends to support the latter: variation in patterns of student use across institutions appears to be primarily a product of localized community demand. Finally, I draw on established performance indicators to examine the implications of the identified patterns of student use for observed institutional performance. I find that institutions that differ in terms of dominant or disproportionate patterns of student use also differ significantly and systematically on a number of measures of institutional performance.