The average American student attends an open-admissions community college or a not-very selective four-year university, but doesn’t complete a degree. Raising graduation rates is proving to be a difficult challenges, the Hechinger Report finds.
Achieving the Dream began working on the goal seven years ago with pilot programs at 26 community colleges. After expanding to 160 colleges and spending $76 million, Achievng the Dream hasn’t increased graduation rates, according to a MDRC review released in February.
“We have not found any magic bullets,” says Thomas Brock, MDRC’s director of policy for postsecondary education. “The budget-cutting and the difficulty students are having getting into classes—those are pushing back against the goal.”
Community colleges enroll many low-income, immigrant and first-generation college students who often are juggling jobs and family responsibilities; some have been out of school for years.
Sixty percent or more require remedial education, according to Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
“They don’t have money, they’re working, they’re the people who are least likely to afford the tuition increases,” says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, a national nonprofit working to increase the number of Americans with a college degree or credential. “We have a lot of work to do so that we don’t fail them.”
“We are beginning to see examples of community colleges that, through focused effort sustained over time, are ‘moving the needle’ on student progress and success indicators,” says Kay McClenney, who directs the Community College Survey of Student Engagement and teaches in the Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Eventually, that should result in higher hgraduation rates, but it won’t happen quickly, McClenney says.