SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN: Commentary: Community colleges are a bad deal

Career College Central Summary:

  • President Barack Obama announced a plan recently to provide free community college to any “responsible” student who wanted it.
  • That’s a bad idea. Community colleges perform poorly, and any additional government subsidy of these already heavily subsidized, weak performers would likely be a waste of money. For proof, compare them to much derided for-profit institutions. While these schools have their own flaws, their students do better on a variety of measures.
  • Take completion rates. According to the federal Digest of Education Statistics, only 19.5 percent of first-time, full-time students at two-year public schools finish their programs within 150 percent of the time they are slated to take. So less than 20 percent finish a two-year degree within three years, or, say, a 10-month certificate program within 15 months. And that rate has fallen even since 2000, when 23.6 percent of students completed.
  • That statistic doesn’t change much when you account for student transfers. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only 20 percent of community college students transfer to four-year institutions. Four years later, 72 percent of those have completed their degree or remain enrolled. That inches the success rate to roughly 34 percent. Meanwhile, the for-profit sector that has been so demonized by the administration has an almost 63 percent completion rate at two-year institutions, and that has been rising steadily since the 2000 cohort.
  • How about cost?
  • For-profit schools are much more expensive than community college. In the 2012-13 school year, average tuition and fees at two-year public schools ran $2,792, versus $14,193 at two-year for-profits. But something interesting is going on.
  • Given the wide price difference, you would expect for-profit schools to be getting their lunch eaten by already dirt-cheap community colleges. They haven’t been. Between 1990 and 2010, for-profit colleges saw much faster enrollment growth than community colleges; 179 percent compared to 44 percent. Why?
  • There are many reasons, but one seems to be that for-profits are more responsive to students’ needs and desires than community colleges. They appear to offer more flexible scheduling, better focused training and superior student services. They can charge more in part because they provide a better service.

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