Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Community College Students’ Engagement in Student Support Services and Effects on Their Success

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students as they engage in services offered at a Maryland community college and the effect of participation and engagement in those services on their overall success while enrolled at the community college. There is limited research on the experiences and perceptions of currently enrolled LGBTQ+ community college students nationally, and in Maryland, the research is even less and almost nonexistent. According to the 2022 Campus Pride Index ratings, only 25 of the 1,043 community colleges in the United States participated in the index. While the 2022 report included several four-year colleges and universities from Maryland, it mentioned none of the 16 Maryland community colleges. This qualitative study employed a collective case study research design, and the transformative paradigm was used to conduct the study. Astin’s theory of student involvement framed the study. The setting was a small, rural community college in Maryland. The participants were 13 purposefully selected students who identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and were enrolled in at least one course at the study site. Data collection for this study included semi-structured interviews, available institutional documents and manuals, field notes, and the researcher’s reflective journal. The data collected were analyzed using the constant comparative method and open and axial coding analysis methods. The study’s trustworthiness was established through member checking, rich, thick descriptions, and triangulation. The findings of this study indicated that the participants perceived engagement in student support services did not significantly affect their success but that the student support services that were available were adequate and appropriate to support their success. The results of this study contribute to understanding this otherwise marginalized student population and offers recommendations that can support student support staff and college administration in their efforts to serve all students equitably. The results of this study suggest several implications and recommendations for higher education practice. Implications include: 1) community colleges must expand the collection of data to more adequately address the needs of all students, and 2) higher education student support services must be more appropriately defined so that all students know where to go for their specific needs. The recommendations to the practice of higher education, based on the findings of this study, include: 1) investments must be made by higher education institutions in the training and development of student support services staff, 2) higher education institutions should collect and use more institutional data to support all students, and 3) there must be more intentional efforts in higher education institutions to assess non-academic programs including student support services. Recommendations for future research should examine the experiences and perceptions of LGBTQ+ students across multiple, similar-sized community colleges and their engagement with student support services. Additionally, a similar study should be conducted on LGBTQ+ students of color in community colleges and their experiences with student support services. Other recommendations include studies exploring the ways that community colleges identify sexual and gender minority students on their campuses exploring the demographic data collection methods at community colleges specifically focusing on sexual and gender identity. Lastly, the replication of this study, post-COVID-19, is recommended.

Student Support Services, Community College, LGBTQ, Success