A college education is an important component to a lucrative and successful career today, whether the degree is earned at a community college or four-year university
. That fact is driving the efforts of the current administration to raise the completion rates at community colleges
across the country within the next decade. President Obama has launched an initiative to graduate five million new students from community colleges by 2020. The president believes this lofty goal will help the United States establish itself in the top spot for college graduates and beef up the country’s economic outlook at the same time.
However, many states have found that the current economic crunch and exceedingly high unemployment rate are forcing them to make difficult decisions when balancing their budgets
. Some of those decisions involve cutting funding to institutions of higher education –just when schools need money the most. When less money is available, students tend to suffer from fewer services and crowded classes
that make it difficult to graduate on time. Less funding also means fewer options in financial aid
and higher tuition rates
, which often price many low-income students
right out of the community college market.
New Report Shows Shrinking Budgets Impacting Completion Rates
A new report
from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education shows a direct correlation between less funding and diminishing completion rates
at many community colleges around the country. According to the agency’s website, the report, titled, “Affordability and Transfer: Critical to Increasing Baccalaureate Degree Completion,” was designed to address the vital role community colleges play in the quest for bachelor’s degrees
. Many students who cannot afford to move directly into a four-year institution begin their higher education career at community colleges in hopes of transferring their credits
to a four-year university once they have earned their associate degree or professional certificate.
Community colleges serve a significant portion of the population today, including students from low-income households, minority
adults and those who are the first in their family to attend college
. The report makes note of the fact that while the need for community colleges has grown in recent years, state and federal budgets have failed to keep pace with the increased demand. This means that community colleges nationwide are actually producing fewer graduates at a time when the federal government is pushing for more students to complete community college over the next decade.
Those at Risk
According to a report at Youth Today
, the students at highest risk of failure in community college include those who begin their education at a two-year institution out of financial necessity. This student population features a disproportionate number of ethnic students, with 50 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of African-American students beginning at community colleges, versus 28 percent of Caucasian students. States with the largest number of community colleges, such as California
, also have a larger number of minority students attending those schools.
The report also estimates that the completion rates will continue to get worse in these states, as more high school graduates are expected to enter community colleges over the next few years. According to a report at the Chronicle of Higher Education
, nearly half of all high school graduates attend community college in these states. Patrick M. Callan, president of the policy center, told the Chronicle, “If we can’t even put an entry-level postsecondary education within reach of those who want it, there’s no way we are going to meet our education goals.”
The Problem with Community College Completion Rates
The primary reason behind lower completion rates at community colleges has to do with the affordability of the school. Even while many states have set higher goals for college completion rates, they have provided fewer resources to help those schools meet the newly established goals. As funding is cut, colleges are forced to raise tuition rates to make up the difference. With a population primarily consisting of low-income students, tuition hikes have quickly put the college dream out of reach for many who would otherwise head to community colleges right after high school.
Callan told the Register-Guard
in Oregon that raising tuition was not the right approach if states were going to get serious about increasing completion rates. Callan said, “Raising tuition at a time when family income is stagnating, that’s not the way to reach those goals. We’re making short-term decisions to get us out of the pickle we’re in that are really compromising our way to reach these long-term goals.”
Solutions Proposed by the Policy Center
The report also includes recommendations by the public policy center to improve completion rates overall, including making college programs more affordable to the general public. This process includes limits on tuition increases that are skyrocketing much faster than the incomes of the families trying to send students to schools. The center also encourages schools to beef up their financial aid programs, although they agree that financial aid alone will not solve the affordability problem for most students.
The center also recommends that community colleges and four-year universities partner together to make transfer policies more efficient. When students are able to easily transfer credits between institutions, they are much more likely to complete their community college degree program. With changes like these, community colleges may still be able to increase their completion rates according to federal goals, raising the level of education in this country and creating a more robust economy overall.