April 30, 2024 4 min read

Community College Month: Recognizing The Unique Characteristics of Community College Students


EducationHigher Education


Higher EducationPreventionStudent Training

April is Community College Month, a month for us to take the opportunity to focus on the needs and challenges that community college students face that are different than those experienced by four-year colleges.

Community colleges play an important role in higher education. And, while community colleges are less frequently in the national spotlight for various issues such as student safety, well-being, and belonging than their four-year counterparts, it does not mean they don’t experience these challenges.

Vector Solutions’ recent whitepaper, “Prioritizing Prevention at Community Colleges Guide,” explores the commonalities and distinctions between four-year colleges and community colleges and how to develop effective safety, well-being, and belonging programs that address the specific needs of students within the unique context of community college environments.

Well-Being Challenges at Community Colleges

The whitepaper notes some differences in the experiences of community college students versus students at four-year colleges when it comes to various well-being challenges. For instance:


One area of difference among community college students and their four-year college peers involves reasons for choosing not to drink. According to data from Vector Solution’s AlcoholEdu for College course, students at two-year colleges were more likely to indicate that an important reason for choosing not to drink is that they themselves or their family member(s) have had problems with alcohol in the past. This is consistent with the idea that community colleges often serve as an ideal setting for those who wish to pursue academic goals after their educational path has been disrupted by a substance use disorder.

Drug Use

The drug of choice among both groups is not alcohol, but various forms of tobacco. Although fewer two-year students report use of e-cigarettes than 4-year students, vaping rates among both groups are nearly 60%, slightly higher than that of alcohol.

Mental Health

Research suggests that community college students may have even larger mental health needs than students at four-year institutions. Screenings of students at two-year institutions – specifically 18 – 22-year-olds – indicate they are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, as well as to report suicidal ideation.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Data from Vector’s online sexual assault prevention course indicates community college students report slightly higher rates of sexual assault before coming to campus and are more likely to use support resources than those at four-year institutions.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Community colleges typically enroll a higher share of historically underserved students than four-year institutions, including students of color, first-generation students, students with dependent children, and adult learners. However, they are less likely to focus on allyship, recognizing and intervening when they see bias-related behavior.

The differences above present unique opportunities for administrators to be thoughtful and strategic in how they use their resources to ensure student success.

Aligning Prevention to Community College Priorities

Student safety and well-being can directly impact academic success, career preparedness, and enrollment and retention. Community colleges focus on preparing students for the workforce, and investing in supporting students’ health and well-being is an important part of that process. Making safety, well-being, and belonging central to a community college’s mission and operational priorities can help drive student success in academics and career preparedness while helping to increase enrollment and retention.

Recommendations for Prioritizing Safety, Well-being, and Belonging

To support the safety and well-being of students at community colleges efforts must be framed and considered in the appropriate context in order to create the most effective strategies. Some of the strategies outlined in “Prioritizing Prevention at Community Colleges Guide” include:

1. Know Your Students.

Collect data on their behaviors, experiences, needs, and characteristics to inform the intentional design and delivery of programs and messages that will maximize impact.

2. Create Access to Resources.

If resources are limited or unavailable on campus, develop partnerships with community agencies that can provide support and assistance. Enlist the help of students to identify appropriate opportunities to promote available resources.

3. Develop a Holistic Approach.

Consider the totality of students’ lives beyond the campus and classroom and develop programs to help students understand how their personal health and well-being are directly tied to success in other aspects of their lives, including their family and career.

Understanding the unique characteristics of community college students and the barriers they face and then providing resources, prevention programs, and training that supports them in overcoming those barriers will help support students’ well-being, safety, and academic success.

Free Whitepaper: Prioritizing Prevention at Community Colleges

Download our free guide to learn more about supporting the safety and well-being of students at community colleges.

Download Now

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