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Why We Put the “Community” in California Community College

One of the biggest advantages that a flexible online community college like Calbright has is that you can study and take classes on your own time. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or during breaks you take in the day, you don’t need to make your schedule fit with anyone else. Your classes work around your life.

But one of the biggest promises that Calbright makes, as a flexible online community college, is that you don’t have to do it on your own. Students can be as independent as they want, but our systems are full of opportunities for connection. 

Every student has a personal success team, including academic coaches and career coaches, available to help them. They get regular check-ins from staff. They have access to free counseling, as well as a roster of free support services. Many students have found that those checks-ins and support have been helpful to their studies and even crucial to their lives. More than that, though: Calbright creates opportunities for students to connect with one another.

A Community College That Connects Students Across California 

Connecting our students to one another is a challenge – as a state-wide college Calbright has students living in almost every county in California. But it’s also a priority. Calbright has both college wide and program specific slack channels so that students can connect with one another. They use these digital forums to share announcements and celebrate each other’s success, but it goes beyond that. Students use them to form study groups, to get help with homework, and to socialize. 

Calbright offers peer-mentoring programs, so that students support each other. It has a student government that students use to address issues they have and create programs they want;  Calbright has launched online student clubs — like  “The Secret Society of Nerds Who Carry Yarn” and the “Multipotentialite Art Club!” — where students unwind, share interests, and get to know each other.  

Whether they’re meeting to share extracurricular interests or popping into a course’s Slack channel to collaborate on a homework assignment, Calbright spends significant energy making sure students have the flexibility to be on their own when they need to, and be part of a community when they want to.

Students Meet Their Career Goals Together

Calbright does this because our own research shows that students who feel connected and part of a community tend to do better in their studies. So we are constantly iterating new ways that we can create structure and support for students without sacrificing the flexibility they need to make the classes fit with their lives. 

This is one of the key reasons Calbright has significantly higher persistence rates than other online institutions, and even many traditional community colleges.

Now new research reported on by The Chronicle of Higher Education confirms what Calbright is doing: students who feel connected tend to learn more.

“(C)onnecting students with their classmates isn’t just something that sounds nice or feels good,” reporter Beckie Supiano wrote. “A growing body of evidence from neuroscience and related fields has shown that learning is enhanced — the human brain actually works differently — in the company of other people.” 

She added: “Students in courses where social connection is a priority can point to a host of benefits. They form connections, even friendships. They feel like they belong and have an incentive to show up and participate. They enjoy themselves. They learn more.”

Many Calbright students have told us that this is their experience too.

“It’s amazing,” said Kit Atarod, a student in Calbright’s Cybersecurity program and a peer tutor. “I’m so happy to be in it. I get to connect more with different kinds of people who are in the course. When they have problems I’m so glad when I can help them, and if I can’t I can refer them to the right resources. And the course provides its own training, so there’s a lot I can learn too. It’s really exciting!”

Williams Flores, a graduate of Calbright’s IT Support program, said he’s noticed that the more students connect with each other, the more open they are about questions and issues they’re having in class. That openness means students get more help. 

“Students who might not reach out to an instructor will talk to each other, and peer tutors have gone through the class already and have also been trained in how to offer support,” he said.

Being both high tech and high touch is how Calbright leverages the best of both worlds: flexibility and connectivity. 

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