College Guide


June 06, 2013 11:27 AM Community College Completion Is Really Bad

By Daniel Luzer

We’ve long known that community college graduation numbers aren’t so good, but a recent report makes the true picture pretty clear, and disturbing.

According to a paper published by the Century Foundation, the vast majority of community college students (81 percent) plan to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Just 11.6 percent of them do, however.

We often talk about community college success in terms of time. It takes the average community college student five years to complete a two-year associate degree, for instance, and as the Department of Education put it recently, close to 70 percent of students who enroll in community college fail to complete a 2-year program within 3 years.

Those numbers look serious and indicate a problem, but it’s really only a part of the problem. Most people who go to community college, it turns out, just aren’t able to achieve their goals at all by enrolling in these institutions.

Among other things, the Century Foundation recommends providing higher funding to community colleges “serving students with the greatest needs.” It argues that “Funding for higher education should more closely mimic that of K-12 education, channeling extra funds to economically disadvantaged students who, on average, have greater educational needs.”

That does make some degree of sense, but it’s not clear that the Title I funding provided to low-income students in elementary and secondary schools has worked to equalize outcomes in public schools (Title I is generally used in policy analysis just to signify schools with problems).

In fact, the primary reason people cite for dropping out of college is financial problems; community college is just too expensive for many students. Rather than coming up with some complicated funding structure to provide more money to community colleges serving poor students, it might be more effective to just make community college a lot cheaper, for everyone.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • ceilidth on June 06, 2013 6:40 PM:

    One thing rarely mentioned is that almost all community college teachers are adjunct faculty. In most cases they have no training in working with students who have poor educational backgrounds and poor study skills. Because many community colleges are in rural areas and they depend on local residents to teach classes, the teachers' knowledge bases are often out of date and they are juggling multiple responsibilities and jobs. If we want these students to succeed, we need to meet them where they are and make sure that their teachers have the time and resources needed to help them succeed.

  • Demosthenes on June 07, 2013 4:18 PM:

    This story is about as surprising as the fact the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, or the Cubs won't win the World Series. Kids from families with money, even the ones that aren't overly "academic", can afford to go to four year schools. These kids don't have to work to go. So long as this is the case, junior college students will continue to have a lower graduation rate. It's this simple. Your solution, to make it less expensive, is certainly one solution. Another is to reverse the horrid slide in funding for state four year institutions, either to lower tuition or to increase financially-based aid. Until these things happen, these grim statistics will remain awful.