Students do better if they make friends who will share information (Who's the best econ instructor? When are the scholarship interviews? How can I get a tutor?), Karp and colleagues found. "These networks allow students to navigate the campus environment, access knowledge about the college, create a sense of social belonging, and, ultimately, feel that there are people who care about their academic welfare."
Some community colleges are trying to create a sense of connection and community by grouping new students—particularly those who aren't well-prepared academically—in "learning communities," where students take two or three related courses together with faculty who collaborate on curriculum and assignments.
[Read more tips for community college success.]
Typically, students do better when they're part of a learning community, but the benefits fade when the program ends, several studies have shown.
Still, many agree with Adney that the secret to success is for students to engage with classmates and instructors, putting the "community" back in community college.
Joanne Jacobs writes Community College Spotlight for The Hechinger Report, an independent nonprofit education news site. Jacobs also blogs about K-12 education and is the author of Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.