The most authoritative recent analysis of community college year-round enrollment (as opposed to fall enrollment only) is from 2012–2013. The analysis indicates that in 2012–2013, 10.1 million undergraduates were enrolled in public two-year colleges. (NCES, Digest of Education Statistics 2013, Table 308.10).
According to AACC, in fall 2013, approximately 7.4 million undergraduate students were enrolled in community colleges (defined as regionally accredited and primarily associate degree–granting). Approximately 2.9 million students were enrolled full-time, and approximately 4.5 million students were enrolled part-time. AACC estimates that an additional 5 million noncredit students were enrolled in community colleges in fall 2013 (AACC, 2015 [analysis of IPEDS Fall 2013 Enrollment Survey data]).
An analysis of Education Longitudinal Study (ELS: 2002-06) data shows 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 enroll in 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 50 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 less, 57 percent started at a two-year or less-than-two-year college rather than at a four-year institution (Berkner & Choy, 2008).
Approximately 1 percent of associate-degree enrollees and 6 percent of certificate enrollees at community colleges 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 Virginia and Washington 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 the fall of 2008, 39.1 percent earned a credential from a two- or four-year institution within six years (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Shapiro & Dundar, 2014).
16.2 percent of students who started at community colleges in 2008 completed a degree at a four-year institution within six years. 60.4 percent of these bachelor's degree earners (or 9.8 percent of the total cohort) did not obtain a two-year degree before transferring (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Shapiro & Dundar, 2014).
Because the graduation rate used for federal accountability purposes only includes completions that occur at the starting institution, they do not account for this type of outcome. Community colleges therefore do not receive credit for many students who go on to complete a four-year degree (Shapiro et al., 2012).
The most recent national data indicate that 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04 completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 9.4 percent earned a certificate, and 8.3 percent earned a bachelor's degree.
Among students in the second lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04, 15.8 percent completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 10.5 percent earned a certificate, and 10.8 percent earned a bachelor's degree.
These percentages include students who attended for-profit colleges, but community college students make up the preponderance of the cohort. Completion rates at for-profit colleges for associate degrees and certificates are likely to be slightly higher (National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2013).
Federal BPS (Beginning Postsecondary Students) data from 2009 indicate that 68 percent of students beginning at public two-year colleges in 2003–2004 took one or more remedial courses in the 6 years after their initial entry. Between 1995–96 and 2003–04, the percentage 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 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 reading (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008).
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).
A number of recent studies on remediation have found mixed or negative results for students who enroll in remedial courses. Bettinger and Long (2005, 2009) found positive effects of math remediation for younger students. Calcagno and Long (2008) and Martorell and McFarlin (2009), however, used a broader sample of students and found no impact on most outcomes (including degree completion), with small mixed positive and negative effects on other outcomes (see Jaggars & Stacey, 2014, for an overview).
Based on the 2011 National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics, CCRC researchers estimate the annual cost of college-level remediation at community colleges to be nearly $4 billion (Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012) and the annual cost of remediation at all colleges to be nearly $7 billion (Scott-Clayton, Crosta, & Belfield, 2012).
A 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 study 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).
CCRC researchers found that students who ignored a remedial placement and enrolled directly in a college-level course had slightly lower success rates than those who placed directly into college-level courses but substantially higher success rates than those who complied with their remedial placement. This may be 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 college system pass gatekeeper English, and just over a quarter pass gatekeeper algebra (Jenkins, Jaggars, & Roksa, 2009).
A 2006 study using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS:88) found that among students who take at least one remedial course, 28 percent go on to complete a college credential within 8.5 years (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006).
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 courses and failed or "underplaced" in remedial courses when they could have gotten a B or better in a college-level course. 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).
Accelerated developmental education is an approach that reorganizes developmental education instruction and/or curricula in order to help students complete remediation within a shorter timeframe so they can enroll more quickly in college-level math and English.
Proponents of acceleration believe that it can mitigate two problems that tend to discourage students’ progress through developmental education and into college-level courses: multiple opportunities for exiting the developmental course sequence (which can consist of up to four pre-college courses) and poor alignment with college-level curricula (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2014).
Most acceleration strategies fall into two broad approaches, course restructuring and mainstreaming.
Course restructuring models reorganize instructional time or modify the curriculum to reduce the time necessary to fulfill developmental education requirements. Compressed courses allow students to complete multiple sequential courses in one semester. Curricular redesign involves removing redundant content from the developmental sequence and modifying the remaining curriculum to align more closely with college-level requirements, allowing the removal of one or more developmental courses from the sequence. Modularized approaches accelerate students’ progress by customizing instruction (usually via online learning) so that students can focus on the competencies they need for success in a particular academic pathway.
Mainstreaming models accelerate students’ progress by placing students referred to developmental education directly into college-level courses. Mainstreaming with supplemental support involves placing students with developmental education referrals directly into introductory college-level courses and providing additional instruction through mandatory companion classes, lab sessions, or other learning supports. Basic skills integration is a form of contextualization and involves placing students directly into college-level occupational courses and that integrate relevant basic skills instruction (Edgecombe, 2011; Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2014).
CCRC has studied four different acceleration strategies at four different colleges and college systems across the country. In each analysis, accelerated students were compared to a matched set of students with similar placement exam scores who proceeded through a longer developmental sequence.
In all four studies, accelerated students were significantly more likely to complete college-level math or English within one and three years. Students in accelerated English developmental education accrued more college-level credits within one and three years than students in the traditional sequence. Students in accelerated math developmental education were not more likely to accrue more college-level credits (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2014).
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 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 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 1,221,016 in 2004-05 to 2,483,452 in 2014-15 (College Board, 2015).
According the most recent report from the National Center of Education Statistics, 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).
CCRC has conducted studies in Florida, New York City, and California and found that dual enrollment participation is positively related to a range of college outcomes, including college enrollment and persistence, greater credit accumulation, and higher college GPA.
According to U.S. Department of Education's IPEDs data, 5.5 million students took at least one online course in 2012.
The Sloan Consortium's 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report, reports a larger estimate. According to the survey, slightly more than 7 million college students took at least one online course in Fall, 2012. This represents a 6.1% increase from Fall, 2011.
Since 2002, the compound annual growth rate in online course enrollment has been 16.1 percent. For comparison, over the same period the overall higher education student body has grown at an annual rate of 2.5 percent. (Allen & Seaman, 2014).
In Fall, 2012, the proportion of higher education students taking at least one online course was 33.5 percent. This rate was 32 percent in Fall, 2011, and slightly less than ten percent in Fall, 2003. (Allen & Seaman, 2014).
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 by ever-online students, the completion rate for online courses was 8.2 percentage points lower (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2013; 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 rate 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 (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2013; 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 (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2013; 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 (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2013; Xu & Jaggars, 2010).
A recent CCRC study found that while all community college students show a decrement in performance in fully online courses, some students show a steeper decline than others, including males, students with lower prior GPAs, and Black students. The performance gaps that exist among these subgroups in face-to-face courses become more pronounced in fully online courses. For instance, lower performing students (<3.02 GPA) are 2 percent more likely to drop out of face-to-face courses than higher performaning students (>3.02 GPA). In online courses, lower performing students are 4 percent more likely to drop out. Black students overall receive a .3 point lower grade than White students in face-to-face courses (2.7 vs. 3.0 GPA). In fully online courses, they receive a .6 point lower grade (2.2 vs. 2.8) (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2013; Xu & Jaggars, 2013).
In 2015-16, average tuition and fee charges for a full-time student at public two-year institutions nationally were $3,435, compared to $9,410 at public four-year colleges. The average net price, however (taking into account grants and education tax benefits), was negative $770, meaning grants and tax credits and deductions covered a portion of other expenses for the average full-time community college student (College Board Trends in College Pricing 2015).
While sticker prices at community colleges have increased over the past decade (from $2,670 in 2005-06, adjusted to 2015 dollars), net prices at community colleges have actually fallen over this period due to increases in Pell Grants and education tax credits and deductions (College Board Trends in College Pricing 2015).
According to the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), after accounting for grants (but not tax credits), nearly 4 in 10 (38%) of all community college students (full- and part-time) pay nothing or receive money back for attending. Nearly 3 out of 4 (71%) pay less than $1,000, and only 9% will pay more than $2,500 after accounting for grants (NPSAS 2011-12).
Community colleges have the lowest FAFSA (Free Federal Application for Financial Aid) application rate of any sector, at 61%. This rate nevertheless represents an increase of almost 50% since 2007-08. Public four-years have the next lowest rate of students applying for FAFSA, at 72%.
As a result of the increase in FAFSA applications, the rate of Pell receipt for community college students has nearly doubled in recent years, from 21% in 2007-08 to 38% in 2011-12. However, community college students are still leaving Pell Grants on the table: even though community colleges have a much higher proportion of low-income students than other higher education sectors, their rate of Pell receipt is the same as at public four years, and barely higher than the rate at private non-profit four-years. (NPSAS 2011-2012, NPSAS 2007-08)
One in three community college students have family incomes of less than $20,000, putting them near or below the poverty line. 69% of community college students work while in college, with 33% working 35 or more hours per week. Yet only 2% of community college students receive any Federal Work Study aid, compared to 25% of students at private four-year colleges. (NPSAS 2011-2012)
Sampled at a point in time, 37% of all community college students have at least some loans; those that have any loans have an average of $11,771, up from 30% in 2007-08. However both the rate of borrowing and the average amounts among borrowers are far lower than in other sectors. For example, 61% of those at public four-years and 85% of those at for-profits borrow, with average amounts of $18,339 and $19,520, respectively. (NPSAS 2011-2012)
Among first-time community college students who started college in 2003-04 and were tracked over six years, nearly 60% never borrowed and 75% borrowed less than $6,000 (the same stats for for-profit two-years colleges are 8% and 24%, respectively; for public four-years they are 39% and 50%). Only 2% of community college students (6% of those with federal loans) defaulted on their loans 6 years after entry; this compares to 21% at the for-profits (23% of those with federal loans). Updated numbers for these students are not yet available. (Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study [BPS]:04-09)
Of the 25% of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges, 62% complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of transfer. In other words, 17% of the entire cohort of entering community college students earn a bachelor's degree within six years after transfer.
72% of community college students who transfer with an associate degree complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. 56% of community college students who transfer without an associate degree complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.
Bachelor’s completion varies by type of four-year institution. Of students who transfer to four-year public institutions (72% of all transfers), 65% complete a bachelor’s within six years. Of students who transfer to private, nonprofit, four-year institutions (20% of all transfers), 60% complete a bachelor’s within six years. Of students who transfer to for-profit, four-year institutions (8% of all transfers), 35% complete a bachelor’s within six years.
Transfer students who enrolled full-time were significantly more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree within six years (80%), compared with students who switched between full- and part-time (55%) and students who enrolled exclusively part-time (25%).
The above outcomes are for students who transferred to a four-year college in 2005-06, had started college in a community college, and had enrolled in a community college at least once in the prior four years (Shapiro et al., 2013).
20% of entering community college students who successfully transfer to four-year colleges do so after first earning an associate degree or certificate (Hossler et al., 2012).
On average, community college students earn significantly more over their lifetimes than individuals who do not go to community college. Many studies have shown higher earnings for community college awards (Belfield & Bailey, 2011).
But the exact amount varies. It depends on what subject is studied; if the student transfers to a four-year college; if the labor market is strong; and, most importantly, if the student completes community college.
Based on large-scale studies from six states, the average student who completes an associate degree at a community college will earn $5,400 more each working year compared to a student who drops out of community college. This estimate adjusts for factors such as the subject studied, college attended, and college GPA (Bailey & Belfield, 2015).
Vocational certificates can serve two functions for community college students: They can increase earnings directly, and they can help students get jobs.
Most research finds that having a certificate is associated with higher earnings; the effect is especially strong for certificates in health fields. In addition, certificates increase the probability that the person is employed and that the job is in an industry related to their skills (Xu & Trimble, 2015).
Tuition and fees at community colleges are approximately $4,000 per year of full-time study (NCES, Digest of Education Statistics 2013, Table 330.10). By comparison, a student who completes an associate degree will earn on average $5,400 more than a dropout each year. This gap appears within eight years of first enrollment (Bailey & Belfield, 2015). So, the earnings gains are large compared to the fees.
Plus, there are many other benefits of attending college besides having higher earnings (Belfield & Bailey, 2011).