Most Community College Students Won’t Earn BA

According to a new study by the Century Foundation, 81.4 percent of students who enroll in community college plan to earn a four year degree, but only around 11.6 percent actually are able to complete that goal. Budget cuts, understaffed and overworked advising offices, a lack of financial aid, and the reality that many community colleges spend much less on each student than elite universities are generally some of the contributing factors that are causing many students to fail in completing their education. Most students are not receiving the resources necessary in order to achieve their goals. According to the report, "Our higher education system, like the larger society, is growing more and more unequal."

Brian C. Mitchell, CEO of Edvance Foundation, said that many of the issues are related to the understaffed advising offices that are available at community colleges. "You may know how to get to your local community college, but when you get there, you have very good but overworked community college counselors," Mitchell said. The report provided by the Century Foundation was based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and shows that community college students' backgrounds have become more diverse racially and economically. Yet for some of the highly ranked and private four year universities or elite schools, the number of Hispanic and Black students increased from 11 to 12 percent of the schools' population from the period of 1994 to 2006.

There is also a large difference between spending at universities and spending at two-year colleges. In 2009, community colleges spent around $12,957 per pupil, in comparison to the $36,190 spent per student at public research universities and $66,744 at private research institutions based on information provided from the Delta Cost Project. The money that was spent on students at four year universities grew from the period of 1999 to 2009, but at community colleges, it was only increased by a dollar. The growth in spending per student at public research universities was 4000 times greater than at two year schools.

The Century report claims that the disparity is worrisome. "We need radical innovations that redesign institutions and provide necessary funding tied to performance." According to Mitchell, it's more than a matter of knowing which classes students should take. There are financial aid challenges that are also needing to be met. Community college students are more likely to be the first in their families to be able to even attend college. "If you're not used to the mechanisms of a four year college or university financing structure, how do you navigate it?" he asks. Many of the individuals who likely would have gone to a community college in recent years have ended up at some of the more popular for-profit schools, which spend a large amount of money on student recruitment. A recent report from the Treasury Department shows a correlation between the state budget cuts to community colleges and the growth in for-profit college enrollment.