With a current administration pushing community college graduations and mostly bleak data regarding completion rates at both two and four-year institutions nationwide, there is a bright spot to celebrate. A recent report released by the American Association of Community Colleges shows that completion rates at community colleges are increasing across the country, particularly with students of color. This particular study shows that many schools across the country may be on the right track after all, although community college officials stress that there is still plenty of work to be done in regards to college completion.
The Road Ahead: Completion and Transfer Rates
The report, titled, “The Road Ahead: A Look at Trends in the Educational Attainment of Community College Students,” takes a look at the attainment of different types of college credentials over the past 20 years, according to a press release at PR Newswire. The report also looked at the degrees earned vs. the increasing rates of enrollment to determine if the higher demand for a community college in recent years is actually translating to a workforce that is better prepared to meet the demands of a global market.
The report found that over the past two decades, the increase in completion rates has been double the percentage rate of enrollment at community colleges across the country. Between 1989 and 2010, the number of students earning credentials increased by 127%, while enrollment during the same time frame increased by 65%. The numbers are even more significant for students of color, with an increase of 440% for Hispanic students earning credentials and 283% for African-American students. These figures compare with a 90% increase for Caucasian students.
Transfers to four-year institutions after community college are also on the rise. According to the report, the actual rates of student transfers are much higher than what is commonly reported. Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems shows that only 15.7% of students transferred to a four-year institution within three years of enrolling at a community college.
However, a second study by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that the number was actually closer to 30% three years after enrollment, and that figure increased to 50% after six years. The discrepancy might be due to the fact that many community college students enroll part-time in order to balance work and family responsibilities, and it may take longer to show the actual completion or transfer results. The average three-year time frame typically given to community college studies may simply be too short to provide accurate results.
“One extremely positive conclusion can be reached,” the AACC report states, “Educational attainment for all key populations is increasing at community colleges.”
This video discusses student completion and success.
The Significance of the Findings
The results of this report are significant for a number of reasons. First, the study was released just one month after another study from Complete College America found that college completion remains an ongoing problem in this country. According to a report at CTI Career Search, this study found that just over half of all students who enrolled in four-year colleges full-time finished a bachelor’s degree program at the end of six years. Those who enrolled in two-year schools finished their associate degree programs within three years had an even lower completion rate of less than 30 percent. The large majority of students who enrolled in college part-time never finished college at all.
In light of such bleak findings, the report by the American Association of Community Colleges is like a breath of fresh air to the college community as a whole. The data collected in this report show that while there is still much work to be done to increase completion rates at community colleges nationwide, much progress has been made since virtually stagnant numbers in the 1980s. The results show that efforts made by community colleges in the areas of partnerships and initiatives have been a productive start in promoting college completion and workforce readiness across the board.
Another significant point to the AACC report is that in recent years, community college enrollment has soared, thanks to the Great Recession and the high unemployment rate that continues to resonate across the country. According to a report at the Chronicle of Higher Education, over the past three years, community college enrollment has grown from around 10.6 million to 12 million. With many more people attending community college, it is important to see that programs are already in place to ensure higher completion rates for those displaced workers seeking additional training and high school graduates no longer able to afford four-year universities right out of their secondary years.
This TEDTalk discusses how little changes can make a difference in student success.
What Colleges are Doing
What is the reason behind higher completion rates? Many community colleges across the country are implementing programs and policies with student success and completion in mind. Colleges are learning how to streamline student choices for a more efficient process overall. They are offering different types of developmental instruction to accommodate more incoming students, and they are collaborating with one another to discover the best processes and programs to promote student success.
This video offers some suggestions for success in community college.
With President Obama’s lofty goal of increasing the number of community college graduates by 50% in the next decade, completion rates at these schools have become a center of focus for those who study postsecondary education. This latest report from the American Association of Community Colleges shows positive data within recent years that might indicate community colleges could indeed become the key factor in training up a competitive global workforce in the near future.
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