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Plan to Improve Success and Increase Retention Rates Among Community College Students

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Statement of the Problem

The problem that requires significant theoretical attention refers to how community college students successfully achieve learning objectives based on the curricula developed by instructors.  Success, however, refers to how administrators of community colleges retain students until graduation.  Based on the identified problem, this plan to improve success and increase retention rates among community college students draws from 20 theories with implications for pedagogical practice.  While the theories explained in this plan are diverse and wide-ranging, their implications for success and increasing rates are quite specific. Accordingly, each theory has broader implications for how administrators of community colleges develop and implement programs that improve success and retention until graduation.

Application of Educational Theories Towards Improving Success and Increasing Retention

The educational theories that have implications for improving success and increasing retention among community college students are diverse and wide-ranging.  Theories such as behaviorism suggest that all learners must achieve an objective learning standard from operant conditioning (Harasim, 2017; Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  Conversely, theories of constructivism and socio-constructivism suggest that learners achieve success based on how much guidance instructors provide in an environment conducive to an open exchange of ideas (Bejjar & Boujelbene, 2014; Bright et al., 2016; Edwards-Schachter, Garcia-Granero, Sánchez-Barrioluengo, Pineda, & Amara, 2015; Roksa, Trolian, Blaich, & Wise, 2016).  Social learning theory and social cognitive theory bear similarity as the success of community college students depends on the types of knowledge produced within different environmental contexts (Cooper & Lu, 2015; Culver & Bertram, 2017; McLeod et al., 2015; Pennington, Bates, Kaye, & Bolam, 2017).  However, theories of multiple intelligences suggest that success and retention among community college students reflect multi-dimensional constructs not exclusive to behavioral observations (Baş, 2016; Wang, 2017).  Self-determination theory, likewise, suggests that concepts of self-efficacy, autonomy, and motivation have significant implications for how instructors of community college students develop instructional curricula to improve learning outcomes as well as increase retention and graduation rates (Barak, Watted, & Haick, 2016; Ross, Perkins, & Bodey, 2016).  Along more sociological lines, functionalist theory, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism each have implications for how instructors develop effective curricula as well as for how administrators develop programs that produce more successful outcomes among community college students (Aborisade, 2017; Housley & Smith, 2016; Leffel & Hallam, 2012; McKenzie & Twose, 2015; Sadovnik & Coughlan, 2016).  Despite the theoretical variations, those developed by major figures who include Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, and Jerome Bruner have fundamental implications for understanding how community college students succeed and maintain retention rates until graduation.

Major Theorists of Education

The educational theories of French psychologist Jean Piaget suggest that learning itself is a continual process of constructing new knowledge from past knowledge (Cartner & Hallas, 2017; McFarland, 2017).  For Piaget, learning and knowledge converge to shape the cognitive processes of learners (Bright et al., 2017).  Piaget’s theories imply that learning results from personal experience as reflected by behaviors that manifest within the internal institutional environment.  Similarly, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky theorized that learning was a social process in which the open exchange of ideas contributes greatly to individual success (Bejjar & Boujelbene, 2014; Gentry et al., 2015).  Important for Vygotsky was his “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) indicating the difference between what learners achieve with or without the assistance of instructors (Ryder, Russell, Burton, Quinn, & Daly, 2017).  The ZPD further indicates how instructors and community college students establish working relationships between skills considered transferable across multiple contexts.  As community college students progress throughout their academic career, Vygotsky’s core concept suggest that instructors should consider developing curricula that provide more space to develop experiential knowledge.

Following from Vygotsky, the works of American philosopher John Dewey contain theories suggesting that education itself is not synonymous with learning (Pring 2012).  In particular, Dewey believed that education systems currently in place do not foster behavioral improvements.  Rather, educational systems evaluate students based on results of standardized tests and do not promote active engagement with the immediate environment (Boyte & Finders, 2016; Pring, 2012).  Accordingly, Dewey’s theories of education imply that the success of community college students depends on how well institutions provide service opportunities (Maddux & Donnett, 2015).  Following from Dewey, the works of Jerome Bruner indicate that modes of representation—e.g., enactive, iconic, and symbolic—reflect how learner acquire knowledge as information stored and encoded as memory at different stages of life.  By introducing the concept of scaffolding into his theories of education Bruner argued that the facilitation of learning requires strong collaborative efforts between instructors and learners who act as equal partners (Gros & López, 2016; Koskey & Benson, 2017).  Particularly in online environments, scaffolding has implications for how community college students succeed and remain enrolled until graduation.  In broadening Vygotsky’s concept of the ZPD, Bruner suggested that scaffolding produces new forms of learning as innovation in thought provides a context for making positive changes to learning behaviors.


Developed by Ivan Pavlov at the turn of the 19th century and popularized in recent years by B. F. Skinner in the mid-20th century, behaviorism entails that educators must strive to achieve an objective analysis of internal processes once regarded as wholly unscientific (Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  As a reaction to Freudian psychoanalysis, behaviorism reduces learning to simple conditions of stimulus and response (Harasim, 2017).  Adherents to behaviorism attempt to integrate methods of psychology that draw from Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory by connecting research on human learning with the biological processes of most organisms (Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  For Skinner, his vision of mass education and programmed instruction rests on the concept of operant condition that emphasizes how a direct stimulus results in positive and negative reinforcement in manipulating subjects into adopting new behaviors (Harasim, 2017; Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  Both positive and negative reinforcement condition behaviors such that learners achieve success by changing perceptions about how the immediate environment produces stimuli that influence outcomes.

Concerning the problem of how students enrolled in community colleges succeed and remain enrolled in their higher institution of choice, behaviorism has implications for how instructors develop curricular content to achieve specific learning outcomes.  Instructors may simultaneously draw from behaviorism and Bloom’s taxonomy to achieve six hierarchical outcomes, each of which assumes that learning depends on the knowledge acquired at a lower level (Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  In Bloom’s taxonomy, “knowledge” refers to how learners remember information while “comprehension” involves a process of interpreting information to fit an environmental context.  Next, “application” reflects how instructors encourage learners to draw from key principles to solve real or hypothetical problems while “analysis” entails a breaking down of main ideas into multiple components (Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017, p. 116).  Moving upward, “synthesis” refers to how instructors encourage learners to create new ideas from an amalgamation of concepts while “evaluation,” the highest level, entails that learners make objective statements against a formalized standard.  As such, behaviorist theory implies that success among community college students depends on the ability to memorize concepts an apply them towards a wide range of instructional contexts.

Theory of Cognition

Originated by American philosopher John Dewey, the theory of cognition posits that learners must perform a service that leads instructors to develop a pragmatic evaluation of learning outcomes.  Accordingly, the theory of cognition suggests that reflective thought has a strong relationship with service learning in education (Maddux & Donnett, 2015).  Dewey also believed that the links between psychological and biological frameworks of learning are remarkably parallel to cultural and historical processes that evolve in a logical fashion.  The theory of cognition suggests, therefore, that students attending a community college make sense of personal experiences to acquire acknowledge in multiple disciplines (Maddux & Donnett, 2015).  Like behaviorism, however, the theory of cognition resides in how learners use memory to construct a framework of knowledge in developing higher-order thinking (McInerney, 2014).  The theory of cognition indicates how instructors believe that learning is a cumulative matter and that prior knowledge of a subject inspires the collection of new information.  Thus, instructors of community college students may develop curricular content that engages multiple psychological processes to achieve objective learning outcomes.  Dewey’s theory of cognition has significant implications for how community college students succeed under appropriate instructional guidance.  First, instructors should assume that all acts of cognition are instrumental and contingent (Maddux & Donnett, 2015).  Each act of cognition is subject to change by instructors responsible for ensuring that students achieve objective learning outcomes.  If community college students are to serve their respective institution through learning, instructors who apply Dewey’s theory of cognition should consider how personal experience influences memory and knowledge.  Secondly, instructors should make observations of how some students may become overly confident about how much past knowledge will influence future performance (McInerney, 2014).  Here, instructors should encourage students to practice service learning and monitor behaviors that have consequences for academic performance.


Initially conceptualized by Jean Piaget, a constructivist approach to learning is a “meta-practice” in which students may influence the overall design of instructional curricula, students lead peers, and students assess peers (Bright et al., 2016, pp. 76-77).  More important is how both knowledge and learning emerge simultaneously from cognition.  Instructors who draw from a constructivist approach encourage learners to engage in a sense-making process that involves considerable degrees of self-discovery.  By applying the concept of “guided participation,” instructors who follow a constructivist approach practice student-centered learning and encourage learners to perceive instructional content as an end in itself (Bright et al., 2016, p. 77).  In pedagogical terms, a constructivist approach encourages instructors to adopt framework such as problem-based learning, team-based learning, and classroom-as-organization to achieve learning objectives.  A constructivist approach also allows instructors to consider the relationship between organized student-centered instruction and academic performance (Roksa, Trolian, Blaich, & Wise, 2016).  By considering such a relationship, instructors develop a stronger ability to identify which mechanisms of learning produce significant benefits for pedagogical practice.

Particularly, the constructivist approach has implications for how instructors identify the cultural aspects that community college students bring with them upon entering a classroom environment (Roksa, Trolian, Blaich, & Wise, 2016).  Referring to how instructors identify mechanisms of learning, the constructivist approach entails an acknowledgment of how academic engagement is central to achieving optimal learning objectives.  Actively engaged students demonstrate more positive behaviors by investing more time in studying activities, participating in class discussions, and arriving at each class session fully prepared (Roksa, Trolian, Blaich, & Wise, 2016).  More importantly, a constructivist approach has implications for student success in community colleges as problem-based learning reflects an application of concepts to real-world problems as students influence the direction of instructional curricula  (Bright et al., 2016).  The constructivist approach has further implications for how meta-practices of team-based learning and classroom-as-organization provide space for community college students to organize self-managed teams in which each member challenges another.  Team-based learning and the classroom-as-organization imply even further that students have opportunities to evaluate individual performance within a specific organizational context (Bright et al., 2016).  By drawing from all three meta-practices and by considering which mechanisms of learning produce success among community college students, the constructivist approach emphasizes how content knowledge and active engagement promote a sense of community through service.

Social Learning Theory

Conceptualized by Albert Bandura, social learning theory (SLT) refers to a framework by which the component of “expectancies” implies that instructors develop curricula based on perceptions of what community college students expect (McLeod et al., 2015, p. 31).  Somewhat similar to behaviorism, SLT proposes that the expectancies held by learners may or may not necessarily reinforce rewards and punishment systems reflective of operant conditioning (Harasim, 2017; McLeod et al., 2015; Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  Administrators employed at institutions of higher education understand the need to sustain educational programs that contain objectives reflecting individual differences in learning needs.  Like constructivism, however, SLT has the power to transform how students demonstrate high levels of active engagement with designing instructional curricula that have implications for achieving success (Bright et al., 2017; Culver & Bertram, 2017; Roksa, Trolian, Blaich, & Wise, 2016).  Community college students who struggle to succeed may have instructors who draw from SLT in moving beyond knowledge acquisition from rote memory and developing more reflexive learning behaviors.  Yet, SLT remains in continued development as instructors acquire experiential knowledge that informs pedagogical practice (Culver & Bertram, 2017).  For SLT to have a positive influence on how community college students succeed, instructors must design curricula that apply knowledge gained from personal experience.

More importantly, instructors should consider applying the concept of “locus of control” to identify how community college students establish connections between learning activities and the achievement of high-level learning outcomes (McLeod et al., 2015, p. 31).  While a locus of control is either internal or external, researchers in education suggest that many students identify as belonging on a continuum from which events occurring in the immediate environment have varying degrees of influence on individual academic performance.  As instructors develop curricula designed to achieve high learning objectives, the observation that students with an internal locus of control have better outcomes than individuals with an external locus of control has implications for how community colleges can improve retention and graduation rates (McLeod et al., 2015).  Administrators of community colleges responsible for ensuring that students remain enrolled until graduation should also take part in identifying how having an internal locus of control improves problem-solving skills.


The works of Lev Vygotsky inform socio-constructivism as an educational theory.  Accordingly, socio-constructivism places a considerable emphasis on the inherently social nature of learning (Bejjar & Boujelbene, 2014).  Socio-constructivism also assumes that all individuals learn in environments conducive to an open exchange of ideas.  For community college students, participating in an active learning environment produces mutual benefits that instructors may also enjoy.  What learners believe about their own ability to achieve learning objectives depends on how strongly family and peers encourage creativity and innovation in thought (Edwards-Schachter et al., 2015).  Conversely, instructors may draw from socio-constructivism to encourage learners into thinking how much their behaviors are a product of personal experiences developed within specific environmental contexts.  Unlike behaviorism, socio-constructivism does not define learners as individual and mutually exclusive objects of study.  Socio-constructivism, rather, provides the space for instructors of community college students to develop “scripts” from cognitive processes to improve decision-making processes (Edwards-Schachter et al., 2015, p. 32).  By extension, providing the space for community college students to construct scripts reflects the desire to achieve higher learning objectives in disciplines such as the humanities, social sciences, and education (Bejjar & Boujelbene, 2014).  Community college students who succeed after instructors implement a socio-constructivist approach perform a service for themselves and for their institution by identifying which areas of thought influence learning behaviors (Edwards-Schachter et al., 2015; Maddux & Donnett, 2015).  The service performed by community college students then shapes retention and graduation rates.

Experiential Learning

Developed by David A. Kolb in the 1970s, the theory of experiential learning draws heavily from the works of Dewey and Piaget to define a practice of learning through experience (McFarland, 2017).  More specifically, the theory of experiential learning details six key propositions that have significant implications for how community college students succeed and subsequently remain enrolled until graduation.  First, Kolb believed that learning is a process and not necessarily an outcome.  In drawing from the works of John Dewey, the theory of experiential learning includes a principle of continuity to describe how learning depends on the quality of each experience (McFarland, 2017).  In drawing from the works of Jean Piaget and Carl Jung, McFarland (2017) noted recently how the second proposition of experiential learning suggests that knowledge is a construct that reflects personal beliefs.  If success among community college students leads to higher rates of retention, the third proposition of experiential learning entails that instructors should encourage dialectical interaction with the instructional materials (McFarland, 2017).  Contrasted with a banking theory of education, the theory of experiential learning draws from the constructivist approach of problem-based learning to situate learners as capable of providing teachable moments.

As new forms of curricular instruction, including those delivered in virtual formats, gain popularity among most university students, the theory of experiential learning is necessary to inform pedagogical practice (Gentry et al., 2015).  Accordingly, the fourth proposition of experiential learning states that instructors should adopt a holistic approach of adaptation to how others acquire knowledge (McFarland, 2017).  In drawing from the works of Lev Vygotsky, the fifth proposition of experiential learning proffers that individual interactions with the environment facilitate knowledge construction as new problems emerge on a continuing basis.  As events in the external environment influence behaviors occurring within the internal environment, how community college students improve success and remain enrolled until graduation largely depends on which programs administrators may readily provide (Gentry et al., 2015).  Especially since online education maintains its popular status among community college students who prefer to learn outside of a traditional banking model, the sixth proposition of experiential learning implies that reductions in the limits of knowledge construction require instructors to encourage more active engagement on students’ behalf.

Multiple Intelligences

Developed by Howard Gardner in 1983, the theory of multiple intelligences contests that traditional assessments of intelligence are too limited in measuring mental acuity (Wang, 2017).  For Gardner, intelligence is the biological and psychological capacity for individuals to solve problems or acquire knowledge within specific learning environment (Baş, 2016).  The theory of multiple intelligences contains a minimum of seven components that reflect how learners acquire knowledge across diverse environmental contexts.  Where visual-spatial intelligence assumes that learners develop an awareness of personal environments, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence involves using the body towards reaching an observable goal (Baş, 2016).  Next, musical knowledge implies that learners have a keen sensitivity to rhythm and sound that encourages learning through multi-media tools whereas interpersonal intelligence indicates how social interaction fosters learning (Baş, 2016).  Intrapersonal intelligence, the opposition of interpersonal intelligence, suggests that learners draw from cognitive resources to reflect on how personal experiences influence knowledge construction.  Lastly, linguistic intelligence refers to how learners use language towards achieving objectives through while logical-mathematical intelligence is a matter of using concepts to explore patterns or relationships in behaviors (Baş, 2016).  Since gaining popularity more than 30 years ago, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has significance for understanding how success and retention rates among community college students may inevitably increase.

Accordingly, instructors may draw from the theory of multiple intelligences to resolve gaps in learning among community college students whose performance outcomes may not necessarily reflect the potential to graduate (Wang, 2017).  Instructors should ideally encourage students into believing that each individual has a different process of acquiring knowledge.  Considering how many students enter the community college environment with an overarching belief that successful performance on standardized tests predicts a similar success in future years, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests otherwise.  Despite the suggestion, instructors of community college students may draw from Gardner’s theory to inform pedagogical practice deliver instructional materials in a more loosely structured manner (Wang, 2017).  The dynamism of Gardner’s theory ultimately reflects how instructors of community college students also view intelligence as having multiple components (Baş, 2017).  As success and retention among community college students remain important, the theory of multiple intelligence applies towards reducing perceived difficulties associated with engaging in hands-on activities that provide opportunities to acquire knowledge from unique experiences.  In online environments, the theory of multiple intelligences applies towards encouraging students to interact with others whose background and personal experiences provide unique learning opportunities.

Situated Learning

Conceptualized by Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger, situated learning is an extension of research on educational apprenticeship that considers how concepts such as “legitimate peripheral participation” (LPP) applies towards the assumption that community college students of any age may achieve success and increase retention rates until graduation (Priest, Saucier, & Eiselein, 2016, p. 362).  Accordingly, LPP provides instructors with opportunities to inform pedagogical practice from an application of key tenets concerning access to membership, experiences of membership, and trajectories of learning (Rubin, 2016).  Access to membership has implications for how instructors of first-year community college students develop effective instructional curricula that promotes success through active engagement (Priest, Saucier, & Eiselein, 2016).  Experiences of membership entail that LPP allows first-year community college students to access critical information, resources, and opportunities to participate as actively as possible in different learning environments.  Lastly, trajectories of learning inform the theory of situated learning in suggesting that community college students may improve success and increase retention rates by “unfolding” personal qualities and applying them towards developing a uniquely positive learning experience (Priest, Saucer, & Eiselein, 2016, pp. 362-363).  Each of the three key tenets contained within the theory of situated learning indicates that success and retention require instructors to establish a classroom environment with intentional participation in mind (Rubin, 2016).  As with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the theory of situated learning has implications for success and retention such that personal experiences overlap as part of a dynamic process that cannot exist in isolation (Baş, 2016; Rubin, 2016; Wang, 2017).  More generally, the theory of situated learning suggests that community college students may improve success and increase retention rates in communities of practice.

Communities of Practice

Also developed by Lave and Wenger, communities of practice is a practical framework that instructors of community college students apply towards increasing retention rates through improvements in learning outcomes (Gauthier, 2016; Mupepi, 2017).  In communities of practice, learning emerges from the dialectical interactions that learners have with each other as well as with instructors.  Accordingly, much of the knowledge acquired by learners is situational and relational such that instructors may develop effective curricula reflective of assessment strategies informed by instructional methods (Gauthier, 2016).  Concepts like participation and reification also inform communities of practice as instructors develop curricula that encourage greater collaboration between community college students (Annala & Mäkinen, 2016; Mupepi, 2017).  Whereas participation entails a process by which community college students acquire knowledge from interacting with others, reification is the act of transforming ideas and concepts into empirical facts with implications for enhancing problem-solving skills.  Both participation and reification have the potential to improve success and increase retention rates among community college students by informing how instructors shape learning communities (Annala & Mäkinen, 2016).  If either participation or reification seems lacking, instructors have a responsibility to strike a balance between how these two concepts influence the manner in which community college students acquire knowledge within a specific classroom environment.

21st Century Learning

In the current century, the development of “21-st century skills” has significance for how community college students succeed and increase rates of retention until graduation.  Developed by the Partnership for 21-st Century Learning (P21), 21-st century skills functions as a theoretical framework containing four clusters that have implications for how instructors should formally assess the academic performance of community college students at the individual and collective levels (Spector et al., 2016).  The four clusters of (1) key subjects and themes, (2) learning and innovation skills, (3) information, media, and technology skills, and (4) lifelong learning and career skills stress the need for instructors to develop curricula that link critical thinking skills and adaptability to professional environments that depend on technological innovation (Bejjar & Boujelbene, 2014; Housley & Smith, 2016; Qian & Clark, 2016; Spector et al., 2016).  As instructors of community college students develop curricula that apply to all four clusters, some researchers in education suggest that techniques influenced by game-based learning provide space to develop critical thinking skills considered integral for success in academic and professional realms (Qian & Clark, 2016).  Across all four clusters, game-based learning has a positive influence on how learners develop the cognitive skills to solve problems with real-world implications.  However, instructors of community college students also have the responsibility of ensuring that integrating game-based learning into instructional curricula produces outcomes closely aligned with objectives reflecting a need for innovative technologies.

Gestalt Theory

Conceptualized by Graf Christian von Ehrenfels, Kurt Koffka, and Max Wertheimer, gestalt theory suggests that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Accordingly, learning is more than a process of instructors using operant condition to evoke responses from community college students (Harasim, 2017; Kumar & Nazneen, 2016; Murtonen, Gruber, & Lehtinen, 2017).  As a pedagogical practice, gestalt theory allows instructors of community college students to develop a needs-based approach that reflects cognitive functioning and individual human behaviors (Klapper & Refai, 2015).  Important to gestalt theory is the concept of “field” that refers to the immediate environment and its influence on cognition and behavior.  Here, gestalt theory has implications for understanding the philosophical underpinnings of developing curricula to improve success and increase retention rates among community college students (Klapper & Refai, 2015).  For example, international students whose first language is not English may experience difficulties with processing new information delivered by an instructor unaware of how cross-cultural differences shape disparities in learning (Kumar & Nazneen, 2016; Pan, 2017; Waldman, Harel, & Schwab, 2016).  Community college students acquiring English as a second language may also have limited opportunities to improve upon any level of success already acquired.  Among all community college students, however, the implications of gestalt theory are that instructors must develop curricula accounting for cross-cultural differences.

Self-Determination Theory

Developed in the 1970s by Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan but not popularized until the mid-1980s, self-determination theory (SDT) includes key concepts such as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, autonomy, and self-regulation that have direct implications for how community college students succeed and ultimately produce an increase in retention rates until graduation.  SDT also includes concepts like amotivation, competence, and relatedness as reflective of personality development and emotional self-regulation (Ross, Perkins, & Bodey, 2016).  In either physical or online learning environments, SDT has implications for how instructors design curricula capable of increasing motivation (Barak, Watted, & Haick, 2016).  In particular, instructors who emphasize intrinsic motivation develop curricula that encourage active engagement to improve problem-solving skills.  An emphasis on intrinsic motivation entails that instructors of community college students should also focus on cultivating self-efficacy to influence positive behavioral changes (Ross, Perkins, & Bodey, 2016).  Increased levels of self-efficacy among community college students indicate high levels of confidence regarding abilities to solve problems with real-world consequences.

Social Cognitive Theory

Conceptualized by Albert Bandura, social cognitive theory contains assumptions about how learners exhibit a direct presence through active engagement with instructional materials (Cooper & Lu, 2015).  Applied to a wide range of psychological domains, social cognitive theory provides instructors with a conceptual framework for developing curricula that, in the same vein as SDT, promotes self-efficacy (Barak, Watted, & Haick, 2016; Cooper & Lu, 2015; Ross, Perkins, & Bodey, 2016).  Accordingly, instructors of community college students may develop curricula that emphasize psychological concepts of perseverance and achievement to increase motivation in learning behaviors (Pennington, Bates, Kaye, & Bolam, 2017).  As social cognitive theory suggests even further, instructional curricula that emphasize self-efficacy allow community college students to identify thought processes sustain improvements in learning outcomes and increase retention rates.  For instructors of community college students to explore the psychological drivers of success, social cognitive theory illustrates how self-efficacy itself is a process of exercising personal agency to achieve desired outcomes (Boyte & Finders, 2016; Cooper & Lu, 2015).  Instructional curricula that emphasize self-efficacy encourage students to reflect on how self-perceptions influence learning outcomes in multiple contexts.

Sociological Theories of Education

Emile Durkheim’s theory of functionalism suggests that environments produce social facts that structure individual behavior (Sadovnik & Coughlan, 2016).  Accordingly, functionalism implies that both instructors and community college students serve an integral function reflecting success and increases in retention rates.  However, instructors who solely rely on a functionalist approach to generate improvements encounter limitations akin to that of behaviorism.  Conflict theory, as inspired by Karl Marx, aims to produce dialogue between instructors and community college students as disagreements over which behaviors produce the most effective outcomes seem inevitable (Aborisade, 2017; McKenzie & Twose, 2015).  Though conflict is indeed time-consuming, the theories developed by Marx have implications for success and retention such that instructors may develop curricula that reflect personal experiences as historical markers of interactions with the immediate environment (Leffel, Hallam, & Darling, 2012).  Following from conflict theory, the theory of symbolic interactionism (SI) conceptualized by George Herbert Mead serves a pragmatic purpose as instructors implement a pedagogical framework that considers how community college students interpret behaviors as reflecting conditions occurring in the external environment (Aborisade, 2017; Housley & Smith, 2016).  Like conflict theory, SI informs how community college students succeed and remain enrolled until graduation as instructors consider how agency is a matter of having the freedom to think with creativity, independence, and authenticity (Boyte & Finders, 2016).  In concert, all three sociological theories indicate that solving the problem concerning how community college students succeed and remain enrolled until graduation involves significant collaborative effort and active engagement.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Recommendations for solving the problem related to how community college students succeed and increase retention rates draw from the theory of cognition.  If community college students are to serve their respective institution through learning, instructors who apply Dewey’s theory of cognition should consider how personal experience influences memory and knowledge.  Secondly, instructors should make observations of how some students may become overly confident about how much past knowledge will influence future performance (McInerney, 2014).  Here, instructors should encourage students to practice service learning and monitor behaviors that have consequences for academic performance.  Other recommendations draw from the theory of experiential learning.  If success among community college students leads to higher rates of retention, experiential learning entails that instructors should encourage dialectical interaction with the instructional materials (McFarland, 2017).  Instructors must consider how active engagement occurs along a multi-stage process of first having unique concrete experiences, reflecting on those experiences, developing concepts from the experiments, and engage in active experimentation.  Likewise, the practical framework of communities of practice functions to provide instructors of community college students with opportunities to succeed and remain enrolled until graduation (Annala & Mäkinen, 2016).  If concepts such as participation and reification endemic to maintaining communities of practice seem lacking, instructors have a responsibility to strike a balance between how these two concepts influence the manner in which community college students acquire knowledge within a specific classroom environment.


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