Today, only about 18.7% of full-time and 7.4% of part-time students earn an associate's degree within four years, according to Complete College America. The low percentage of community college students who earn credentials has become a national issue, as it affects the country in a variety of ways.
For example, a 2011 report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) shows that students who drop out of community college before their sophomore year cost taxpayers almost $1 billion every year. The report indicates that between 2004 and 2009, local, state and federal governments spent close to $4 billion in financial aid and appropriations to community colleges that assisted students who never earned a degree.
"There's a lot of institutional failure here," Mark Schneider, vice president of the AIR, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "We can't keep pouring money into these institutions without figuring out how to make them better."
Taking Schneider's advice, many schools and organizations have worked to figure out how they can help more community college students graduate. One theory was that if these individuals were given more financial aid, they would make it to graduation. However, a new report discredits this prediction.
A recent study by the AIR and Noel-Levitz found that the amount of financial aid awarded to community college students in Louisiana through Pell Grants and other programs did not significantly affect their academic success. Instead, the report points to academic preparation as a stronger predictor of a student's likelihood to graduate.
In fact, the report shows that 28% of students who came to college without having to take developmental courses earned an associate's degree or transferred to a four-year school. However, individuals who were not as academically prepared and enrolled in developmental classes had only a 14% chance of success.
Given these statistics, Schneider said something needs to be done to address the needs of students who are simply not college ready.
"Admitting them to community college may not be fair to students, many whom have taken time out of the labor market, paid tuition and taken loans to finance their education," Schneider said in the report. "It may also not be fair to taxpayers, who pay for the state subsidies to community colleges and other state aid programs."