How California Community Colleges Hope to Increase Graduation Rates by 2020

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How California Community Colleges Hope to Increase Graduation Rates by 2020
California currently faces dismal graduation rates, but a new initiative hopes to increase graduation rates dramatically by 2020.

Last year, President Obama announced his ambitious plan to graduate five million more students from community colleges by 2020. According to a report at WhiteHouse.gov, the President believes this goal is necessary to ensure the United States can continue to be a leader in the global economy. However, boosting graduation rates at community colleges nationwide may be easier said than done. To facilitate the process, California has developed a list of recommendations to increase graduation rates in that state, which could serve as a model for other states.

Room for Improvement

According to a Southern California Public Radio report, there is plenty of room for improvement in California community colleges today. A study by California State University, Sacramento, found that seven of every ten students do not complete a two-year degree or transfer to a four-year institution. Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley told the radio station, "We need to improve the education of our workforce rapidly, and community colleges are the gateway to the majority of that workforce in California."

This video explains how one community college uses data to increase graduation rates.

Finding Solutions

To help achieve that end, the Community College League of California has issued recommendations for community colleges to follow. The "Commission on the Future's 2020 Vision for Student Success" report outlines 17 recommendations designed to increase student graduation rates. League president Scott Lay told KPBS that the report's purpose is to make community colleges more structured.

"Having mandatory orientation sessions, mandatory assessments, and guidance of students," Lay said, "These are some of the practice changes that in many colleges it's already happening, our goal is to bring it to scale throughout the entire system." Since many students drop out of community colleges today due to inadequate guidelines, Lay is hopeful that more structure within the college framework will lead to better student retention and higher graduation rates.

Commission Recommendations

The 17 recommendations issued by the league fall into four categories and include a variety of modifications and improvements:

Leadership and accountability

  • A visible, high level of leadership across districts and colleges
  • A student record system that monitors student progress from elementary school through post-secondary education and into the workplace
  • Research that focuses on teaching, learning, and student success
  • Requirements should be assessed to ensure they lead to student success and increased course completion
  • Professional development of faculty and staff should be directed at improving student success

Intense student support

  • Students should be required to participate in support programs
  • Community college expectations should be clearly defined through a statewide initiative

Teaching and learning

  • Develop an enhanced Basic Skills funding model that tracks student progress and ensures all students have the skills needed for success.
  • Develop alternatives to traditional curriculum sequences using linked or alternative sequences when appropriate.
  • Establish transfer associate degrees that guarantee admission to four-year universities with junior standing.
  • Coordinate class schedules between college departments to meet the needs of first-time students and promote program completion.
  • Expand the awarding of credit for demonstrated competency and knowledge
  • Encourage faculty to demonstrate knowledge of effective teaching technique

Finance and affordability

  • Create incentive funding that distributes money based on student performance and institutional success.
  • Maintain moderate and predictable increases in enrollment fees
  • Institutional financial aid should be aligned with federal criteria for financial aid

The commission hopes to achieve a post-secondary education environment that promotes equity, access, and success by addressing all four of these categories. Colleges that follow this prescription should be able to effectively close the achievement gap often seen through ethnicity and social class. They should be able to increase their institutions' access to more residents of the state seeking higher education. In doing so, the league hopes to increase California's college completions by one million by 2020.

This video outlines a vision for student success.

About the Community College League of California

According to the organization's website, the CCLC is a non-profit organization committed to promoting student access and success by strengthening colleges across the state. The league's Commission on the Future was explicitly created to study effective ways to increase college graduation rates with policy and practice changes that could conceivably be implemented by 2020. These efforts align with the White House requirement to increase graduation rates at community colleges within ten years.

This video outlines some strategies for student success.

California has seen an increase in community college enrollment as laid-off workers return to school to retrain and return to the workforce. The 112 institutions across the state are exploring ways to help these students remain in their post-secondary education roles until they receive the degrees or certifications necessary to succeed in the new marketplace.

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