Report Lays Down Map for Community College Improvement

The Century Foundation has released the final report of a task force convened in February of last year that was asked to study the issues facing the country's community colleges. The report not only provides an up-to-date picture of American community college system, but also offers recommendations that will help the colleges optimally serve their students.

To celebrate the report's release, the Foundation held an event where taskforce co-chairs Eduardo Padrón and Anthony Marx as well as U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter spoke about the report's findings.

"We were fortunate to have some of the brightest and most experienced thinkers and practitioners in higher education on the task force," said Century Foundation senior fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg, executive director of the group, which was funded by the Ford Foundation." While a lot of great work is already being done on community colleges, what distinguishes this group is its commitment to addressing growing economic and racial stratification in higher education that makes the work of two-year institutions so difficult."

In order to improve the quality of community colleges everywhere, one of the biggest hurdles the schools need to overcome is the high number of students who don't go on to either earn a degree to transfer their credits to a 4-year institution. According to the report, while 81% of incoming freshmen believe that they eventually want to complete their bachelor's degree at another school, only 12% go on to do it even if they have the necessary credits.

Even well-prepared low-income students suffer when they choose a community college over a traditional four-year school. Of high school graduates who have taken at least trigonometry in high school, 69% complete a four year degree if they start in a four-year school, but only 19% do if they choose to take classes in a community college first.

The report also highlights the comparative lack of investment in community colleges, even though they enroll, educate, and train a larger and more diverse population than any other segment of higher education:

More than 60 percent of community college students receive some developmental/remedial education, at an estimated cost of $2 billion per year. While wealthy students outnumber poor students at the most selective four-year colleges by 14:1, community colleges educate twice as many low-income students as high-income students.

Between 1999 and 2009, community college funding increased just one dollar per student, while per-student funding at private research universities jumped almost $14,000.

The authors offer a number of recommendations to improve the quality of community colleges across the country, including adopting a new federal funding formula that takes into account factors like "adequacy," making it similar to the formulas used by the federal government and the states to fund K-12 schools.

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