Currently, the U.S. system of higher education is almost exclusively evaluated by quantitative data based on traditional student trajectories and university structured programs. This could be problematic for community colleges and post-traditional students, who are a growing population at all institutions. Therefore, we conducted a pilot, qualitative description analysis of three U.S. quantitative national datasets to assess their accuracy and identify factors that influence classifications. We interviewed individuals (n=13) who would qualitatively be considered success stories, specifically individuals who attended community colleges during their undergraduate studies and ultimately high ranking graduate programs, to gather information about their educational timelines. In some cases, the datasets would classify these individuals as completers but not always. Participants would be classified as non-completers for two major reasons: transfer prior to Associate degree completion and limitations with prescribed timelines. The latter is complicated by the perceived freedom of the open door policy at community colleges. The results from this study indicate a need to modify existing quantitative metrics to purposefully incorporate community colleges and their students, and the findings reinforce the importance of qualitative research in higher education.


qualitative description, higher education, community colleges, quantitative evaluation

Author Bio(s)

Mia Ocean is an Assistant Professor of Graduate Social Work at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on anti-oppressive methods and access and equity in higher education. She can be contacted directly at mocean@wcupa.edu.

Karon Hicks is a high school Social Worker with the City of Philadelphia School District in Philadelphia, PA. Her research interests include racial representation and economic disparities in higher education. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to karon.hicks20@gmail.com.


We want to thank the participants in the research for sharing their stories, experiences, and expertise.

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