How do Community College Students Access Support Services?

Blog Post
April 11, 2023

This is the fifth blog in our series that presents findings from our recent survey on community college enrollment. You can read the first blog in this series here, the second about online education here, the third about access to online learning here, and the fourth blog about stop-outs here.

Less than 30 percent of students who started a certificate or associate degree program in 2017 at community colleges graduated after three years. While the data only includes students who enrolled full-time and not part-time or transferred students, 30 percent is definitely not a desirable number. Many reasons can be attributed to the low completion outcome, such as inadequate academic preparedness, the complex structure of programs at community colleges, and the lack of resources to help students navigate campus.

Certain strategies have been put in place to support student success, from academic to mental health support, and comprehensive student success programs that combine support in different areas (such as the Accelerated Study in Associate Program, or ASAP) have shown evidence of improving student completion outcomes. But what do students think about these support services? This blog explores data from our latest community college enrollment survey to see how students access support services on their campus.

Academic support

Academic support seems to be the most popular services for students at community colleges. More than seven in ten current students said that their colleges offer academic advising (72 percent of continuers and 76 percent of new students) and tutoring services (74 percent of continuers and 83 percent of new students) (See Figure 1).[1] However, only 46 percent of continuers and 52 percent of new students have used academic advising services, and a smaller number (41 percent of continuers and 35 percent of new students) have used tutoring services.

The number of stop-outs who could access and utilize these academic support services is much smaller than current students. While 61 percent of stop-outs said their former colleges provided academic advising, only 39 percent used it. And while 54 said their former colleges provided tutoring, only 25 percent used it. A much higher share of stop-outs (18 percent) than current students (7 percent of continuers and 9 percent of new students) were not aware of whether their colleges offered academic advising. The gap in awareness and access to academic support services between current students and stop-outs persists in other areas as well.

Financial support

Financial support, including financial aid, emergency aid, and transportation stipends, provides a stimulus to get students enrolled and helps them get to the finish line. Our findings show that financial aid that students can use towards tuition and living expenses unsurprisingly remains the most common type of financial support available to students, compared to emergency aid and transportation stipends. Nearly 80 percent of both continuers and new students said that their colleges offered financial aid, while only 64 percent of continuers and 67 percent of new students said emergency aid is available at their colleges, and only over half of continuers (52 percent) and new students (55 percent) said transportation stipends are available (See Figure 2).

Current students were also more likely to have received financial aid than any other financial support. While over half of continuers and new students received financial aid, less than 30 percent of continuers and new students received emergency aid or transportation stipends.

Fewer stop-outs (66 percent) said their former colleges provided financial aid, but for those that had access to aid, two thirds took advantage of this support. Only 36 percent of stop-outs said that their former colleges provided emergency aid, and only 26 percent said the colleges provided transportation stipends. They were also less likely to have taken advantage of these supports compared to current students.

Career services

Career services are well-known among current community college students. More than 70 and 80 percent of continuers and new students respectively said that their colleges provide career services (See Figure 3). More than a third of continuers and nearly half of new students said they have used this resource. But among stop-outs, only half said their former colleges offered career services and one in four was unsure whether these services were available. Only 23 percent of stop-outs have used career services offered at their former colleges.

Basic needs

Majorities of continuers (55 percent) and new students (54 percent) reported their college provided free or reduced meals to students, and around one-third of continuers (33 percent) and new students (37 percent) had utilized this service (See Figure 4). Only one in four stop-outs said their colleges provided free or reduced meals to students, but 34 percent of stop-outs stated that they would have used this program if their institution had offered it. A similar trend emerges when considering on-campus food pantries: 57 percent of continuers, 56 percent of new students, and 28 percent of stop-outs reported this service availability at their institution.

Approximately six in ten continuers and new students shared that their college offered housing support, compared with less than one-fourth of stop-outs (23 percent) (See Figure 5). Three in ten continuers, 26 percent of new students, and just 10 percent of stop-outs accepted housing support from their college while in school.

Childcare support services

When considering childcare, 47 percent of continuers and 44 percent of new students were aware that their college offered childcare subsidies, and nearly half (49 percent) of continuers and 41 percent of new students were aware that their institution provided on-campus childcare (See Figure 6). But only one-fifth of stop-outs shared that their college offered childcare subsidies and on-campus childcare. Nearly one in four (23 percent) stop-outs report that they would have used these services if they knew they had the opportunity.

Mental health services

Last but not least, over six in ten continuers (61 percent) and new students (67 percent) report that their college provides mental health services (See Figure 7). Three in ten continuers and 28 percent of new students have utilized these services, and an additional 16 percent of continuers and 11 percent of new students express that they would use these services if they were provided by their institution. As seen in other support areas, a significantly lower proportion of stop-outs (29 percent) express familiarity with these services on their former college campuses. Just 11 percent of stop-outs utilized mental healthcare through their institution, but a notable 26 percent expressed that they would have used such services if they had been offered them. Stop-outs who are women of color are even more likely to state that they would have used this service if provided: 32 percent of Black women and 36 percent of Latinx women say so, compared to 24 percent of white women.

What do the data tell us about access to support services at community colleges?

The fact that stop-outs are more likely than current students to be unaware of support services available to them indicates that providing the support alone is not enough. Colleges need to engage more effectively with students, especially those who are at risk of stopping out, and actively inform them of the available resources. For certain services that are essential to academic progress, such as academic advising, institutions can consider making them a requirement to improve utilization. In another question when we ask stop-outs what factor would prompt them to re-enroll, more than half said that they would likely do so if they receive more support from their institutions. As community colleges are trying to bring more students back to campus, strengthening their support services will not only improve their student experience and outcomes, but also entice more students to come back and stay until completion.


[1] Our survey looks into four groups of students at community college: “continuers,” who enrolled between January 2021 and 2022 and continued enrollment in fall of 2022, “stop-outs,” who enrolled between spring 2021 and 2022 and are no longer enrolled, “new students,” who considered enrolling earlier in the year and enrolled in the fall 2022, and “aspirants,” who considered enrolling earlier in the year and are not currently enrolled.

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