Too Many Don’t Make the Cut
Holly Korbey is Director of The Skill Project
Last month, the Obama Administration released its #HighSchoolToCommunityCollege Education Goals – a five-year, $1.5 billion initiative to make high school education more relevant and timely by connecting community colleges with students sooner. Unfortunately, the vast majority of students aren’t ready to begin their community college coursework. In the long run, the joint effort is likely to benefit students, community colleges, and the economy, but the initiative is not an overnight fix.
Our analysis of Public Policy Institute data show that community college completion rates have actually declined since 2000, indicating that many students are not being prepared for their coursework. About 60 percent of students who transfer to a community college don’t complete their degree within six years. More than a quarter of students who begin college on an associate’s degree are still not in school six years later. Also, fewer than 50 percent of students who started in college on two-year degree plans completed their degrees within four years. It has been estimated that 34 percent of community college students could have completed their degree by the end of the summer of 2016 if all of the student growth and graduation rates from 2014-15 were assumed to continue for 2016-17. This article will examine ways community colleges can improve and increase their success with community college completion.
Too Many Don’t Make the Cut
In an excerpt from a report titled “Generation Beyond: Federal Efforts to Get Adults Back to Work,” the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) points out the link between high school attainment and increased employment and income. According to EPI, the percentage of adults with at least a four-year degree “is now lower than the percentage in the 1990s.”
The decline in employment rates is significant; some suggest that it has negatively impacted the nation’s economy. We have noted the link between the recent national drop in unemployment rate and the dwindling percentages of high school graduates.
To answer why so many aren’t earning degrees, we examine a number of popular explanations. For example, the report states that the drop in high school graduation rates may be due to two factors: rising family size, especially in the U.S. Latino community, and a declining state of education overall, which may explain lower graduation rates among Black students. However, our research supports the premise that a large, overarching factor is the differing success of high school students and community college students. Further, for community college students, the average completion rate is just 36 percent of the students who begin as bachelor’s degree candidates in the fall of 2016.
More Funds for Community Colleges
Our research suggests that increasing state investment in community colleges will be critical to increasing the number of graduates. Community colleges receive $10,300 on average for students who leave without a degree, which is more than any other public institution of higher education. Unfortunately, only 41 percent of community college students who began in fall of 2014 ended up earning a degree within six years. The average total investment in 2015-16 for students who left without a degree amounted to $14,200 and was second only to four-year schools.
Recommendations to Make Community College a Success
Our research indicates that the problems students face when it comes to community college are complex. Several strategies may be required to overcome them, such as increased funding, increased student support, and increased data on course failure rates. According to EPI, much of the responsibility for increasing community college completion rates lies with policymakers. For example, expanded financial aid eligibility could be part of the solution, encouraging community college students to remain in school longer and earn a degree. In addition, expanded access to tax credits and Pell Grants would help make higher education more affordable.
Other strategies to reduce the need for remedial education and increase completion rates include higher high school graduation rates, revised entrance and completion requirements, better learning environments, and more experience with the program in which they are enrolling.
We believe that the 2014-15 drop in community college enrollment was not a reflection of the increased competency of students. Rather, it was an overreaction to the changes in federal policies on the State level. By addressing these issues, it is possible to ramp up completion and ensure that students who are best suited for college-level courses receive the opportunity to start on a path toward graduation.