As of the 2009-10 school year, 7.2 million undergraduate students were enrolled in public two-year colleges, or approximately 40 percent of nation’s undergraduates in higher education. More than 2.9 million students were enrolled full time and 4.2 million students were enrolled part time (Knapp et al., 2011).
Data from an analysis of Education Longitudinal Study (ELS: 2002-06) show that 44 percent of low-income students (those with family incomes of less than $25,000 per year) attend community colleges as their first college after high school. In contrast, only 15 percent of high-income students go to community colleges initially. Similarly, 38 percent of students whose parents did not graduate from college choose community colleges as their first institution, compared with 20 percent of students whose parents graduated from college.
The same analysis found that fifty percent of Hispanic students start at a community college, along with 31 percent of African American students. In comparison, 28 percent of White students begin at community colleges.
According to a nationally representative survey of first-time college students in 2003-04, among first-time college students with family incomes of $32,000 or lower, 57 percent started at a two-year or less-than-two-year college rather than at a four-year institution (Berkner & Choy, 2008).
In a sample of over 150,000 students in community colleges in the Completion by Design initiative (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), 13 percent of college-ready students earn a bachelor’s degree in five years; this figure is 2.5 percent for students who are referred to developmental education (Sung-Woo Cho, CCRC Research Associate, personal communication, 2012).*
*Note: It is difficult for students who are referred to any form of developmental education to obtain a bachelor’s degree in five years, as they are commonly in developmental coursework for at least a year before they can begin college-level courses. Also, many developmental students do not enroll with the goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and thus this outcome is not representative of remedial student completion rates.
Approximately 1 percent of all community college associate degree enrollees and 6 percent of certificate enrollees do not have any high school credential (diploma or GED). Nineteen percent of certificate enrollees have a GED or other equivalency instead of a high school diploma, as do about 10 percent of associate degree enrollees and 2 percent of enrollees at four-year institutions (Judith Scott-Clayton, CCRC Senior Research Associate, personal communication based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics Beginning Postsecondary Students: 2009 study, computation by NCES QuickStats).
National data on term-to-term persistence are scant, but two CCRC studies of community college students in Washington and Virginia found that a quarter of students who enroll in the fall semester do not return in the spring. Of those who do enroll in the spring, one fifth do not return for the subsequent fall semester (Jaggars & Xu, 2010; Jaggars & Xu, 2011).
Of first-time college students who enrolled in a community college in 2003-04, fewer than 36 percent earned a credential from a two- or four-year institution within six years (Radford, Berkner, Wheeless, & Shepherd, 2010).
A CCRC study of over 250,000 students at 57 community colleges in the Achieving the Dream initiative found that 59 percent of entering students were referred to developmental math, and 33 percent were referred to developmental English (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
While about 60 percent of community college students enroll in at least one developmental education course, many more are referred but never enroll (Bailey, 2009).
Another study using national data found that 58 percent of recent high school graduates who entered community colleges took at least one developmental course. Only about one quarter of these students (28 percent) went on to earn any degree or certificate within 8.5 years (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006).
Federal BPS (Beginning Postsecondary Students) six-year follow up data from 2009 indicates that 68 percent of students beginning at public two-year colleges took one or more remedial courses in the 6 years after entry. Between 1995-96 and 2003-04, the percent taking a remedial course in their first year increased from about 25 percent to 30 percent (Judith Scott-Clayton, CCRC Senior Research Associate, personal communication, from NCES QuickStats).
A number of recent studies on remediation have found mixed or negative results for students who enroll in remedial classes. Bettinger and Long (2005, 2009) found positive effects of math remediation for younger students.
Studies by Calcagno and Long (2008) and Martorell and McFarlin (2009), however, used a broader samples of students and found no impact on most outcomes (including degree completion), with small mixed positive and negative effects on other outcomes (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011).
Based on the 2011 National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics, CCRC researchers estimate the annual cost of college-level remediation to be nearly $7 billion dollars (Scott-Clayton, Crosta & Belfield, 2012).
The CCRC study of 57 community colleges participating in the Achieving the Dream initiative found that only 33 percent of students referred to developmental math and 46 percent of students referred to developmental reading go on to complete the entire developmental sequence (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
Developmental completion rates vary according to remedial level. Only 17 percent of students referred to the lowest level of developmental math complete the sequence; 45 percent of those referred to the highest level complete the sequence (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
A CCRC of 250,000 community college students found that only 20 percent of students referred to developmental math and 37 percent of students referred to developmental reading go on to pass the relevant entry-level or “gatekeeper” college course (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
The Bailey, Jeong and Cho study found that students who ignored a remedial placement and instead enrolled directly in a college-level class had slightly lower success rates than those who placed directly into college-level but substantially higher success rates than those who complied with their remedial placement, because relatively few students who entered remediation ever went on to attempt the college-level course (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
CCRC’s study of a statewide community college system found that about half of developmental English students and one third of developmental math students enroll in gatekeeper courses. Among college-ready students, around four fifths enroll in gatekeeper writing and reading, and three fourths enroll in gatekeeper math.
Once enrolled, the pass rates for college-ready and developmental students—regardless of their remedial level or whether they took or skipped their remedial requirements—are very similar, hovering around 75 percent. Nevertheless, because overall gatekeeper enrollment rates are low (62 percent for English and 36 percent for math), less than half of all students in the Virginia system pass gatekeeper English, and just over a quarter pass gatekeeper algebra (Jenkins, Jaggars, & Roksa, 2009).
Ninety-two percent of two-year institutions use scores on assessment tests for placement into remedial education (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011).
Two college placement exams dominate the market: The ACCUPLACER, developed by the College Board, is used at 62 percent of community colleges, and the COMPASS, developed by ACT, Inc., is used at 46 percent (Primary Research Group, 2008). Some colleges use both ACCUPLACER and COMPASS exams (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011).
One CCRC study of a statewide community college system found that the ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33 percent of entering community college students. In other words, based on their ACCUPLACER scores, one third of entering students were either “overplaced” in college-level classes and failed or “underplaced” in remedial classes when they could have gotten a B or better in a college-level class. Using students’ high school GPA instead of placement testing to make placement decisions was predicted to cut severe placement error rates in half (to 17 percent) (Belfield & Crosta, 2012).
The same study found that the COMPASS severely misplaces 27 percent of entering community college students. Using students’ GPA to make placement decisions could have reduced severe placement error rates by more than half (to 12 percent) (Belfield & Crosta, 2012).
A CCRC study of a large urban system found that the COMPASS severely misplaced 33 percent of entering students into English and 24 percent of entering students into math. More than one third of all tested students who placed into remedial English were severely underplaced, and almost a quarter of all tested students who placed into remedial math were severely underplaced (Scott-Clayton, 2012).
In this system, using high school transcript information instead of test scores was predicted to lower severe placement errors by 10 to 15 percent. Using the best of either placement test scores or high school transcript information was predicted to lower the remediation rate by 8 to 11 percentage points while reducing placement errors and increasing college level success rates (Scott-Clayton, 2012).
In the most recent national report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 82 percent of high schools reported that students were enrolled in dual enrollment courses, with a total of approximately 2 million enrollments.
Seventy six percent of high schools reported that students took dual enrollment courses with an academic focus, and forty six percent reported that students took dual enrollment courses with a career or technical-vocational focus. (Thomas, Marken, Gray, Lewis, 2013).
According the to most recent NCES report, 69 percent of high schools reported enrollments in AP or IB courses, with a total of about 3.5 million enrollments (Thomas, Marken, Gray, Lewis, 2013).
There are no national data on the number of students taking just AP courses (as opposed to AP and IB courses), but the number of AP exam-takers increased from 537,428 in 1995 to over 1.3 million in 2005 (College Board, 2008).
According the most recent NCES report, 63 percent of high schools that offer dual enrollment have established requirements that students must meet in order to enroll in dual enrollment courses. (Thomas, Marken, Gray, Lewis, 2013)
Almost 30 percent of college students enrolled in at least one online course in 2009—a 21 percent increase from 2008. That increase is in contrast to the less than 2 percent increase in the overall higher education student population (Allen & Seaman, 2010).
A CCRC study of Washington State community and technical college students found that among all courses taken by all students, completion rates in online courses were lower by 5.5 percentage points. Overall, online courses are more popular among better-prepared students; therefore, the researchers also compared completion rates of online and face-to-face courses for students who had ever enrolled in an online course (or “ever-online” students). Among all courses taken ever-online students, the completion rate for online courses was 8.2 percentage points lower (Xu & Jaggars, 2011).
Among English courses taken by ever-online students, the online completion rate was 12.8 percentage points lower, and among math courses, the online completion rates was 9.8 percentage points lower. Students who took higher proportions of online courses were slightly less likely to attain a degree or transfer to a four-year college than those who took fewer online courses (Xu & Jaggars, 2011).
A CCRC study of Virginia Community College System students found that among all courses taken by all students, the online completion rate was 12.7 percentage points lower. Among ever-online students, online course completion was 14.7 percentage points lower. The online completion rate for English courses was 16.1 percentage points lower, and online completion rate for math courses was 18.7 percentage points lower (Xu & Jaggars, 2010).
The same study found that among ever-online students, the completion rate for online developmental English was 22.3 percentage points lower, and the completion rate for online developmental math was 22.1 percentage points lower (Xu & Jaggars, 2010).