Community college students are typically less likely to participate in on-campus leadership activities than their peers at the four-year universities (Miller et al., 2005). Fifty-nine percent of community college students are enrolled part-time, compared to the 27% of students at four-year universities (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2010). Community college students are more likely to work 20 or more hours per week at off-campus locations, with less than 20% of students not working at all (Orozco & Cauthen, 2009). After balancing academic responsibilities, employment and family obligations, community college students are left with little time to engage in leadership skills development opportunities on campus. For this reason, clubs and organizations can serve as a critical link to student involvement for community college students.
While student organizations at the community college appear similarly to their counterparts at senior colleges, the constraints on student availability combined with the rapid turnover in leadership positions carry unique challenges for the community college advisor. The most successful organizations tend to be the ones that connect to an academic program, as the students see these organizations as an opportunity to connect with their professors outside of the classroom. The academic connections also provides the faculty advisor with the benefit of tying what’s learned in the classroom to the activities planned outside. In this way, many organizations serve as almost a laboratory for the curricular experience.
Student organizations on the community college level tend to require advisors to be more hands-on and directive. Student activity in these organizations can often be limited to built-in common hours (mid-day blocks of time where classes are not scheduled to allow for involvement in activities). The success of student organizations may often rely on the work of advisors behind the scenes, such as planning programs or putting together funding request paperwork. The frequent turnover of student leaders in organizations often leaves the advisor as the one stationary element during the numerous transitions.
One of the benefits for advisors in community colleges is the lack of a “publish or perish” environment for faculty. In fact, involvement in some way in the college community can often be one of the factors used to award tenure to full-time faculty. This leaves faculty with more quality time to spend with student organizations and to work with the members in developing activities. This can also mean that the role of the activities professional can be as much supporting the faculty advisor as the students in the organizations.
When I worked at a community college, I was often impressed by the real connections I saw between the student leaders of organizations and their advisors. The advisors frequently went above and beyond the “call of duty” and there were even moments where the advisor was the only factor keeping a club active during long periods of transition. These faculty members were frequently rewarded by the gestures of adulation at our end of the year awards ceremonies. What I think differentiates the community college organization advisor from one at a senior college is that the former is often the heart of the organization, bringing life to a rewarding experience for students, no matter how briefly they might be engaged.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!
Miller, M. T., Pope, M. L., & Steinmann, T. D. (2005). A profile of contemporary community college involvement, technology use, and reliance and selected college life skills. College Student Journal, 39(3), 596–603.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Digest of Education Statistics (No. NCES Publication No. 2011-015). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011015.pdf
Orozco, V., & Cauthen, N. K. (2009). Work less, study more & succeed: How financial supports can improve postsecondary success. New York, NY: Demos. Retrieved from http://www.careerladdersproject.org/docs/studymore_web.pdf