Enrollment Soars but not all Good News for Community Colleges

There has been a sharp increase in enrollment at America’s 1,200 community colleges. Numbers have shot up of people signing up for courses at community colleges up and down the country. In 2000 5.5 million people were doing 2 year courses. In the 2010 to 2011 school year that figure jumped to 8 million.

Analysts put the sharp increase in enrollment numbers down to the recession in the US economy since the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than look for work young people have sought to give themselves a competitive edge in the jobs market by gaining qualifications. This is sound reasoning.

Sadly, the graduation rates for students going to community colleges has fallen sharply. According to Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, less than half of students who enter a community college graduate or transfer to a four-year college within six years.

The reason behind this low graduation statistic is not due to institutional incompetence or bad teaching. Rather, it is the reverse. Modern community colleges have become strongly orientated to preparing students for entering various fields of work. What colleges are finding is that students are successfully finding work during their 2 years at community college or shortly after.

The average cost of tuition at a community college is $3,000 a year. This is cheap compared to the average of $8,000 a year at in-state 4 year colleges. While students can find the money for a community college education they are no doubt deterred from enrolling on bachelor degree courses by the high tuition costs involved.

Perhaps the next step is for community colleges to maintain their tuition fee levels but also offer to let students extend their studies for another 2 years so that they can attain bachelor degrees. This might a long term beneficial effect for the American economy which is going to have be more knowledge based if it is going to keep up with China.