A recent study published by the American Institutes for Research
indicates that high college dropout rates cost both state and federal governments a significant amount of money. At first glance, it does seem that many students take grants
and other government monies and then leave postsecondary education after just one year of enrollment.
However, do these numbers really paint an accurate picture of what is happening in community colleges and four-year institutions across the country? This article will explore the many reasons for high dropout rates, including flaws in how the study data was collected.
What the Numbers Show
According to the AIR study, only about 60% of college students graduate from four-year colleges and universities within six years. According to AIR vice president Mark Schneider, more than $9 billion that was spent on students at these colleges by state and federal governments failed to produce a college graduate that could bring those years of education to the country's workforce.
While these numbers are specifically related to enrollment at four-year institutions, they do not bode well for community colleges either, particularly at a time when President Obama is trying to raise graduation rates at these two-year schools.
Another report by New American Foundation
explores the specific needs of community college students. It explains that many high school graduates that come from low-income families
or are first-generation college goers may find community college to be the best option for them. However, life circumstances for these demographics, including financial constraints, transportation and child care needs
, can hinder goals to finish the educational process and obtain a degree. It appears the numbers are as dismal for community colleges as they are for other postsecondary schools across the country.
What the Numbers Really Show
But are these statistics really accurate? For educators and others who delve further into the facts and figures, it appears many students may be getting more benefit from community college than the initial data might indicate.
For example, an article in the Patriot Ledger
reports that some of the community college "dropouts" might include students who transfer to a four-year institution
before earning their associate's degree
. While they did not finish their education at the community college, they moved onto bigger goals for their education and their future.
A report in the Tufts Daily
states that some students also do not finish their degrees in the time frame set by studies. Students may leave during the timeframe to work and earn more money or care for family issues, but return later. Some community college students may only be able to attend school part-time because of work or family obligations. These students may end up finishing their degrees, but since they took more time than the study allotted, they were classified as college dropouts.
The Misconception about "Students"
While these studies assume that all individuals attending postsecondary schools are traditional students attending college right out of high school, this is not always the case – particularly in the community college environment. Many students are professionals needing additional education to compete in the workforce. They may also be returning from military service or are in the throes of raising a family. These students do not fit the traditional mold and may not require the traditional educational model of a set number of years of schooling and then a degree to succeed.
Students that do attend community college right after high school often need remedial assistance to prepare them for the rigors of postsecondary schooling. As many as 60% of first-year students at community colleges need some sort of remediation
to succeed, according to the report at the New America Foundation. If the support is not available, these students may slip through the cracks and become more dropout statistics.
A report from the National Journal
cites a successful program at Northern Virginia Community College
designed to keep these students in school until they earn their degrees. The program mandates a continuous relationship between individual students and counselors throughout the students' time at NVCC, ensuring that students receive the support and guidance they need to succeed in college. As other colleges look to programs like this, we may begin to see graduation rates rise.
While there is certainly room for improvement in the community college completion rate, the current statistics may be misleading in terms of just how successful these institutions really are. With more focus placed on community colleges by the current administration, it is worthwhile to take the time to explore exactly what the benefits of community college might be and how the educational system can improve to increase those benefits to the students.