Completion: Time is the Enemy

Time is the Enemy of college completion, concludes a Complete College America report, which includes data on completion rates in 33 states broken out, when possible, by part-time or full-time status, certificates, remediation, transfers and age.

Federal statistics count first-time, full-time students, who are the minority at community colleges. Many students are adults returning for a second or third try at college. At least 40 percent attend part-time. Most do not complete a credential.

The statistics also miscount transfers, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. Those who transfer to a four-year institution without completing an associate degree are counted as drop-outs.

“The numbers are stark,” reports the New York Times.

In Texas, for example, of every 100 students who enrolled in a public college, 79 started at a community college, and only 2 of them earned a two-year degree on time; even after four years, only 7 of them graduated. Of the 21 of those 100 who enrolled at a four-year college, 5 graduated on time; after eight years, only 13 had earned a degree.

Similarly, in Utah, for 100 students who enrolled in a public college, 71 chose a community college, 45 enrolling full time and 26 part time; after four years, only 14 of the full-time students and one of the part-time students graduated. Of the 29 who started at a four-year college, only 13 got their degree within eight years.

It’s hard to calculate completion rates for older students,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College.  Did they plan to complete a degree or just take a few classes?

Among older students, as well as those who are awarded Pell grants, and black and Hispanic students, the report said, fewer than one in five of those attending college part time will earn a degree in six years.

“Time is the enemy of college completion,” the report said. “The longer it takes, the more life gets in the way of success.”

Remedial classes, which award no college credit, are the “Bermuda Triangle” of higher education, the report says. Half of all students studying for an associate degree — including many with a B average in high school — must start in remedial classes. Many “never move on to credit-bearing courses, much less graduation.”

States should design financial incentives tied to improved completion rates, the report recommends. That’s already happening, reports College Bound.

In addition, the report recommends completion ideas, such as combining remedial and college-level instruction in the same class and creating “learning communities” that group students in the same classes as others seeking the same credential.

Tennessee’s Technology Centers, which have a 75 percent completion rate, are a model, the report said. Students sign up for a vocational program — with no electives. They attend 35 hours a week. Basic academic skills are taught in conjunction with vocational skills.  Some 85 percent of graduates find jobs in their field.