Pressed to stop a steady trickle of dropouts that has kept their graduation rates low, community colleges are getting more up close and personal with their students, a new report says.

Students say they’re able to speak more often with advisors and instructors about their career plans, and that they’re being called upon more frequently to make presentations in class, according to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement.

Those kinds of things make students feel more connected to their colleges, but have been particularly tough to accomplish at community colleges that serve large numbers of students juggling work and families and who often go to school part time.

The result has been very low graduation rates. About one in five community college student earns a two-year associate’s degree within three years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Fewer than 40 percent receive degrees from any institution within six years, the National Student Clearinghouse reports.

But adding human interaction seems to make a difference.

Now more likely to be asked to make a presentation in the classroom, the proportion of students who say they come to class unprepared has fallen 10 percentage points.

Changes like this suggest that things are moving in a positive direction, said Evelyn Waiwaiole, the center’s director.

“Colleges can design the student experience to require actions that improve engagement,” Waiwaiole says.

The proportion of community college students who say they never skip class, for instance, is up from 38 percent in 2004 to half today.

“That’s not accidental,” Waiwaiole says.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus is a higher education editor at the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.