Community Colleges’ Most Challenging Task: Increase Completion Rates

Career College Central summary:

  • With 13 million students served by more than 1,132 community colleges, topping the list for reforms is improving completion rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at two-year, degree-granting institutions, 31 percent of full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a certificate or an associate degree in fall 2008 attained it within 150 percent of the normal time required to do so (or within three years). This graduation rate was 20 percent at public two-year institutions, 51 percent at private nonprofit two-year institutions and 62 percent at private for-profit two-year institutions.
  • At the same time, the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) 21st-Century Commission has pledged to add 5 million college degrees to the global economy by 2020. To meet that goal it will require groundbreaking change that takes time, planning and optimal use of existing resources, say college officials and advocates for community colleges. Students must be convinced that investing in their education will pay off by helping them succeed in their career goals, administrators say.
  • The role of community colleges is crucial because, according to the AACC, 45 percent of all undergraduates in the United States enroll in community colleges, an increase of 21 percent from 2003 to 2011. Many community colleges have trade-oriented programs in the fields of computer technology, construction, electrical, medical and paralegal studies, where earned certificates can be stepping-stones to an advanced degree.
  • Reports released in October from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) highlight game plans for effective practices that heighten both student experience and institutional accountability, paving a course to success. Among recommendations in CCCSE’s research report “A Matter of Degrees: Engaging Practices, Engaging Students,” an analysis of responses from students, faculty and institution leaders, is that colleges intensify proven strategies such as academic planning, student success programs, first-year experience and learning communities.
  • Appointed a leader college for the nonprofit Achieving the Dream program in 2011, DCCC has executed several of the CCCSE strategies. From 2006 to 2011, the college’s retention rates for students of color have increased, narrowing the gap between them and White students, according to the program’s website. Of the roughly 15,000 first-time, full-time students who enrolled in fall 2008, 14.5 percent, or 226 students, graduated with an associate degree or certificate within three years, according to Cubberley. The completion rate for the 2009 cohort is 15.3 percent, or 275 graduates of the 18,000 students who enrolled that year.

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