Date of Award

Fall 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Community College Leadership

Committee Director

Mary H. Duggan

Committee Member

Mitchell R. Williams

Committee Member

Judy B. McMillan


This qualitative multiple case study explored front-line classified staff interactions with students as a possible strategy for increasing student success. The study was based on the premise that too few students stay at a community college long enough to achieve their academic goals. Therefore, college leaders must identify new strategies to increase student retention and success. A literature review revealed positive student experiences increase the likelihood of student persistence. Since classified staff members interact with students throughout the college, the author examined their interactions as one potential strategy to increase the likelihood of student success.

The study explored classified staff interactions with students from the staff perspective. The research questions focused on how front-line workers interacted with students, how important the interactions were to the staff members, and what the personnel knew about the students they served. The author collected data using interviews, observations, and focus groups. She then analyzed the data, related the findings to the research questions, and identified emerging trends.

Findings indicated staff interactions with students encompassed a wide range of content and complexity. Participants contributed to the educational process through skill building, encouragement, engagement, and administrative tasks. They promoted the college mission by supporting open access, student success, and institutional excellence. Respondents reported being satisfied with their roles; however, they expressed concerns with negative student encounters, work conditions, and policy issues. Participants demonstrated student knowledge by identifying shared characteristics, unique traits of special populations, and various barriers to success. They expected students to be respectful and work hard. The five over-arching themes that emerged during data analysis revealed front-line staff members (a) served as a human connection to students in an increasingly technological world, (b) offered students practical strategies for success, (c) provided support to special populations, (d) recognized work conditions affected their interactions, and (e) desired more involvement in policy development.

College leaders can use these findings to enhance classified staff interactions with students by clarifying hiring procedures, improving office policies, and developing training activities. Further research is needed to more fully understand the role of classified staff members in community colleges.