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Majority of California community college students fail to transfer to a four-year college or earn a degree

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

A report released last week found that of the 250,000 community college students tracked during the six years between 2003 and 2009, only 30 percent transferred to a four-year college, or earned an associate's degree or a vocational certificate. The report, conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento, also found that of those students who did not earn a degree/certificate or transfer, eventually dropped out. Only 15 percent of the students tracked were still enrolled.

Moreover, wide disparities existed among black and Latino students compared to white and Asian students. Only 26% of black students and 22% of Latino students had completed a degree/certificate or transferred, compared to 37% of whites and 35% of Asian students.

With the number of jobs that require some sort of degree on the rise (45 percent by 2017), this low level to achieve degrees/certificate or transfer to a four-year college not only leaves young people without the skills and education to obtain a well-paying job, it is putting the future of California’s economy at risk. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, co-author Nancy Shulock aptly put it: 

     “It's not an understatement to say that the future of California is at stake. Unlike other developing countries with which California and other states have to compete, each generation is getting less educated and attaining fewer higher degrees.”

In fact, Californians between age 25 and 44 earn fewer degrees than the same demographic in Korea, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and the U.S. as a whole.

Community college students face a multitude of barriers including financial, work and family constraints, as well as being unprepared for college-level study. As such, with 2.8 million students enrolled in the state’s community college system, the report recommends straightforward changes to help improve the student achievement. It recommends improved data collection about enrollment and student progress so that appropriate interventions can be developed. For example, the study found that students who pass college-level math and English early in their college careers, and complete at least 20 credits in their first year of enrollment, had higher rates of success. Community colleges can use this type of data to develop programs that help students master basic math and English skills. The study also calls for a change in the funding model from simple enrollment numbers as currently exists to rewarding schools for the number of students that complete degrees or transfer. Co-author Colleen Moore called for “… community colleges and the Legislature to prioritize success - not just enrollment."  

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that California is on track to create nearly one million jobs that will require a bachelor’s degree. For Californians to fill those jobs, ensuring that young people achieve degrees and are prepared with the skills required by the workforce is absolutely critical.  

To view the full report, go here.

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