Community colleges have come to the forefront of post-secondary education since President Obama made them one of his top areas of focus over the first two years of his administration. To determine exactly what type of impact community colleges might have on adults and industries across the country, the first national community college survey was conducted last year. The data, collected by the Pearson Foundation, share some insight into who is going to community college today and some of the major challenges these institutions and their students face.
Who is Attending Community College?
One part of the survey took a look at the types of students community colleges are frequently seeing today, and the results were reported in the Washington Post. This information can help colleges determine the best courses, faculty and schedules to accommodate their student body demographics. The Pearson Foundation study found:
- One-third of the student population at community colleges were enrolling in college right after graduating from high school.
- One-third was returning to college from the workforce, presumably to get additional training for their current job or education necessary to switch careers.
- One-third was taking community college course for self-improvement or enjoyment purposes.
- Half the students surveyed were age 26 or older.
- About 60 percent were planning to transfer to a four-year university after completing their community college degree program (actual transfer rates are actually much lower).
It appears that the large majority of community college students are much older than the average student attending a four-year university. In addition, many community college students have already been in the workforce, and a significant number are married and have families of their own. This changes the needs of the student populations, and community colleges must respond accordingly to keep their student bodies robust.
Getting Classes at Community College
At this point, community colleges are not at a loss for students to take their courses. In fact, many students in the Pearson Foundation survey reported that they could not get into the classes they needed to complete their degree programs, and a significant number had considered dropping out of college entirely because of it.
According to the Pearson Foundation website, the survey found:
- About 20 percent of the student population surveyed said that it was difficult to enroll in the courses they needed to take during the fall semester last year.
- Of the students that took placement tests to determine the courses they should take, more than one-fourth reported they could not enroll in the necessary courses after taking the placement test.
- Around one-third of community college students said they were unable to enroll in one or more classes during the semester when the survey was conducted because the courses were full.
The current economic downturn has sent many students back to community college to get the education they need to land a recession-proof job. The influx of students, combined with cutbacks in most state budgets, has left the majority of community colleges around the country scrambling to try to accommodate as many students as possible. At this time, this trend doesn’t appear to show any signs of easing.
While most students remained in school and tried to get the courses they needed, the survey showed that a significant number of community college students either consider dropping out before their coursework was complete – or actually left the program. During the survey semester, 15 percent of students either seriously considered dropping out or dropped out due to struggles with getting courses or the balance between work and family issues. Almost three-fourths of those who did drop out did so without consulting with an advisor or faculty member first.
The Popularity of Online Education
The Pearson Foundation survey also found that most community college students today see the Internet as a significant tool in their post-secondary education. More than 70 percent of students said that high-speed Internet access is important to a college education. Many even thought that Internet access is more essential than access to advisors or relationships with faculty. Students also believe they can benefit from online textbooks and tutorials, and most who had considered dropping out thought they could do better if they spent more time using online tutorials.
Some of the specific findings about online learning include:
- About 60 percent of community college students have taken at least one course online.
- More than 40 percent of students surveyed were currently taking at least one course online.
- Students who consider dropping out at some point during their community college career are more likely to take online courses.
- These same students believe that online education is "highly important" – presumably because of the flexibility that online classes offer.
- Even students that did not take courses online were likely to use sources or take quizzes through the Internet.
About Pearson Foundation
The Pearson Foundation, according to the organization's website, is a non-profit organization that aims to make a difference in the world of education by providing innovative programs to local schools and communities. This national Community College Survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive and involved 1,434 U.S. community college students (ages 18-59) across the country. Harris Interactive is one of the leading custom market research companies in the United States today and is widely known for its Harris Poll. This community college survey was conducted between September and November, 2010.