Low-income community college students who enter a program of study or concentration increase their chances of success, concludes a new Community College Research Center study of first-time students in Washington state. However, many disadvantaged students start at low remedial levels, attempt few credits and quit before starting a program of study aimed at a certificate or associate degree.
Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds who did focus their studies were more likely than advantaged students to choose career-technical education (CTE), where completion rates are lower than in liberal arts and sciences. They disproportionately study education, child care and secretarial services, which have low completion rates and often lead to low-paying jobs. However, low-SES students are well represented in nursing and allied health fields, which lead to relatively high-paying jobs.
Some researchers and policy analysts have suggested that it would be beneficial to encourage more students into pathways that involve multiple, ―stackable credentials in CTE fields with relatively high labor market returns. Given that liberal arts and sciences is the default pathway for the majority of younger students, convincing recent high school graduates to choose a CTE path would likely require a fundamental shift in the way high schools and community colleges guide and prepare young, first-time college students.
Increasing the rate at which students “enter coherent programs of study” could help boost completion rates, researchers concluded. More than half of younger, first-time college students tried to pursue a credential or said they intended to try but didn’t follow through. These students could be “low-hanging fruit.”
Low-SES students struggle at every step on the way to a credential, researchers found. However, they do better relative to others in career education, suggesting that “career education pathways could be a promising route to help reduce the attainment gap.”