Low Graduation Rates Plague Community Colleges

Low Graduation Rates Plague Community Colleges
  • Opening Intro -

    Community colleges have long served students by providing a steppingstone to furthering their education or allowing graduates to secure a job related to their field of study.


States lose out when students fail to finish college.

In recent years, community college enrollment has spiked as students look for a cheaper way to obtain education. Unfortunately, the graduating rate for community college students is abysmal with only one in four students graduating within three years reports American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Lower Incomes

Students that fail to finish college often settle for lower paying jobs, staying in lower tax brackets than students who complete their education. The AEI study notes that taxpayers are left holding the bag as such students earn less and contribute less to state coffers. Simply by reducing the dropout rate by half would help 160,000 graduates earn $30 billion more income over their lifetime notes the AEI.

The drop out rate for college students is a problem across the board, but the completion rate for two-years schools is approximately 25 percent or much lower than the 60 percent at four-year schools. Right now, 30 percent of the the students in higher education are community college students, people who are drawn to these schools by their open enrollment and low tuition.

Raising Rates

The AEI study suggests some ways community colleges can raise their graduation rates. Streamlining the degree path, providing online courses and borrowing some of the innovations tested and implemented by for-profit institutions can help. The study points to Valencia College in Florida as one success story, an institution that has achieved a 40 percent graduation rate.

Some community colleges are experiencing graduation rates far below the norm. The AEI counted nearly 400 schools where three-year graduation rates are closer to 15 percent, based on federal government figures as of 2009. The study, however, doesn’t track students that eventually secure their degree after three years as only first-time full-time students were tracked.

Student Challenges

Community college students typically have more challenges with obtaining an education than four-year students do. Many are ill-prepared for the rigors of college study. Some are balancing other responsibilities including jobs and raising families.

The AEI suggests that colleges can raise graduation rates by basing instructor salaries on student outcomes, a popular method used by for-profit schools. Schools might also replace a system that evaluates students based on “seat time” or class attendance with one based on subject mastery. Competency-based models would also incorporate prior learning, and could speed up the time to graduation.

Source: American Enterprise Institute

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