Community college: the hardest sector in Education

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Community colleges were founded with the intention to provide college skills for student in preparation of transfer to four year post-secondary institutions.  Over the past century community colleges have evolved to play a vital role in the higher education landscape (Dougherty, 1998).  Community colleges are not just transfer institutions anymore. Their purpose is multifold: transfer, associate’s degrees, certificates and training, and community center. With so many different purposes, community colleges have some of the hardest work to do in all of education.

In 2009, over forty percent of undergraduates in the United States were enrolled in community colleges (Jenkins, 2011).  Despite enrolling over 12.4 million students across the nation, transfer rates remain low.  Only twenty-two percent of students who enter community colleges with the intent to transfer actually do so (McCormick & Carroll, 1997).  California Community Colleges (CCC) enroll approximately two-thirds of California’s college students (Horn & Lew, 2007).  In California, about twenty-three percent of students degree seekers transferred to four year institutions (Moore & Schulock, 2010).   Six years after enrolling less than thirty percent of those students had earned a degree or transferred (Moore & Schulock, 2010).  Among Latinos and African Americans, completion rates are even lower with less than twenty-percent and twenty-five percent respectively transferring or receiving a certificate or degree.  The low transfer rate is troubling.

            While transfer rates remain low, the need for education beyond a high school diploma continues to increase.  A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (2010) projects that sixty-percent of jobs in America will require at least some college, forty-five percent of which will require at least an associate’s degree. 

There is significant pressure on community colleges to provide technical skills training (certificates), prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions, enable students to achieve AA degrees all while serving the community. It is a near impossible task with limited resources. It is difficult enough to do one thing really well, but community colleges are asked to serve many purposes. Perhaps rather than decry the failures of community colleges to get more students to four-year institutions, we should applaud what they can achieve with the challenges they face. Furthermore, the assumption is that community colleges are failing (and in some ways they are) rather than that not all students will choose to go down the path to a four-year institution no matter what community colleges or others do.

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