President's Blog

Community Colleges: Working Hard to Build a Bright Future for Students

Community Colleges: Working Hard to Build a Bright Future for Students

When we think of postsecondary institutions, we usually have our own 4-year state institutions in mind. 

What many don’t understand is that our country’s community colleges serve another 12.7 million students[i] at the same time…nearly 50% of all college-going students. And community colleges typically serve these students with half the annual budget per student than their 4-year counterparts[i].

Given that an estimated 63% of jobs available in 2018 will require at least a two-year degree[i], it is easy to see that community colleges play a key role in educating tomorrow’s workforce.

Yet, according to the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) report, Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future, fewer than 46% of community college attendees have completed their degree[i]

Why the low figure?

According to available data, community college students are more likely to be the first members of their family to attend college, are more likely to be single parents, are older and occupy lower economic categories, and are more likely to attend part-time. In short, the deck is stacked against them.  

But there is hope…. there’s a lot being done to address this challenge.

According to the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSE) at University of Texas, well over 75% of all community college students attend part-time, or vary between part-time and full-time students during their community college careers[ii].

In Even One Semester, the CCSE’s 2017 report on student engagement and success, the importance of attending even one semester of community college full time has been shown to dramatically improve student engagement in persistence[ii]. As a result, the CCSE is advocating for major changes to the Pell Grant program to increase the number of hours covered from 12 to 15 hours, among other recommendations[ii].

Other factors are also well known to boost persistence, include first year experience programs (see our whitepaper on the need for FYE programs) that provide entering students with the support and skills to help with the major transition to college. In addition, putting together cohorts and building more transparent pathways to degree attainment are part of the student success mix.   

Achieving the Dream presents some good news for all community college faculty, staff and especially students. According to their 2018 report, Measuring What Matters, Examining the Success of Achieving the Dream College Graduates in Work and Life, the alumni of Achieving the Dream programs are more likely than their peers to:

  • be satisfied and engaged in their work,
  • thrive in nearly all elements of well-being, including purpose, social, financial and community,
  • feel that they had been supported through college, and
  • be emotionally connected to their alma mater.[iii]

Other groups are also joining the battle in supporting community colleges, including The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and The League for Innovation in the Community College.

April is Community College Month….so let local and state legislators know of your support for your community college system. And let your local community college administrators, staff and faculty know of your appreciation for their hard work.


[i] American Association of Community Colleges. (2014). Empowering community colleges to build the nation’s future: An implementation guide. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.aacc21stcenturycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/EmpoweringCommunityColleges_final.pdf

[ii] Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2017). Even one semester: Full-time enrollment and student success. Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, College of Education, Department of Educational Administration, Program in Higher Education Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ccsse.org/docs/Even_One_Semester.pdf

[iii] Gallup, Inc. (2018). Measuring what matters: Examining the success of Achieving the Dream Network college graduates in work and life. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.achievingthedream.org/resource/17278/measuring-what-matters-examining-the-success-of-achieving-the-dream-network-college-graduates-in-work-and-life