The Hidden Costs of Community Colleges

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American Institutes for Research

As more and more students are gravitating to community colleges, more attention is being put on how well the schools succeed in graduating students. This study from the American Institutes for Research evaluated the expenses of community colleges to find out how much money is being spent on students who don’t attend long enough to graduate.

In 2010, six million students enrolled in community colleges.  But in every year between the  2004-05 through 2008-09 school years, an average of one-fifth of the schools’ students didn’t return for a second year. Their failure to return to school to complete an associate degree means that millions of dollars are spent each year without students earning the credentials they sought. In fact, the cost of students who drop out of community college before their second year has increased by 35 percent in the last five years.

The study puts part of the blame for the high number of dropouts on the admission of students who were not ready for college in the first place. In the 2004-05 academic year local governments appropriated more than $500 million for community college students who dropped out before their second year. The number of state and federal grants that go towards students that drop out of community colleges has also increased between the 2004-05 and 2008-09 years. 

The study identifies efforts made to increase student success and reduce cost at community colleges.  Complete College America suggests that one way to increase completion rates would be to provide more structured schedules so that students would be able to predict better when they would need to be available for classes.   

To read a free version of this 22-page report, click here.