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Community College FAQs

Community College Enrollment and Completion

How many undergraduate students are enrolled in community colleges?

As of the 2012-2013 school year, 45% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in public two-year colleges, or approximately 7.7 million students. Approximately 3.1 million students were enrolled full-time, and approximately 4.6 million students were enrolled part-time. (Knapp et al. 2012) (AACC Fast Facts)

What percentage of low-income, minority, and first-time college students attend community colleges?

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 lower, 57 percent started at a two-year or less-than-two-year college rather than at a four-year institution (Berkner & Choy, 2008).

What percentage of community college students obtain a bachelor's degree?

According to a recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse, 15 percent of students who started at two-year institutions in 2006 completed a degree at a four-year institution within six years (Shapiro et al., 2012).

 

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.

Do all community college students have a high school diploma or its equivalent?

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).

What is the rate of student persistence at community colleges?

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).

What percentage of community college students obtain a college credential?

Of first-time college students who enrolled in a community college in 2003–04, 34 percent earned a credential from a two- or four-year institution within six years. Another twenty percent had not yet received a credential but were currently enrolled somewhere.  (Radford, Berkner, Wheeless, & Shepherd, 2010).

 

The graduation rate typically used by for federal accountability purposes is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who complete a credential at their starting institution in 150 percent of the expected time to complete a given program: in other words, completions that occur within three years for two-year degrees, and six years for four-year degrees.

 

Using this graduation measure, community colleges have a 22 percent completion rate. In comparison, using the same measure, nonselective four-year public institutions have a graduation rate of 29 percent (Snyder & Dillow, 2012).

 

Using the same measure (first time, full-time students who complete at starting institution) but with a two-year timeframe, 12 percent of community college students complete. Using a four-year timeframe, twenty eight percent of community college students complete (Horn, 2010).

 

According to a recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse, 15 percent of students who started at two-year institutions in 2006 completed a degree at a four-year institution within six years. Nearly two thirds of these students (63 percent) did so without first obtaining a two-year degree.

 

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).

Developmental Education in the Community College

How many community college students are referred to and enroll in remediation?

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).

 

Do developmental education courses help students succeed in college?

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.

 

Studies by 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 (Jaggars & Stacey, 2014).

What are the costs of providing remedial education?

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 million (Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012), and the annual cost of remediation at all colleges to be nearly $7 billion (Scott-Clayton, Crosta, & Belfield, 2012).

How many community college students complete their remedial requirements?

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).

How many students referred to developmental education go on to complete "gatekeeper" math and English (entry-level college courses required for graduation)?

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). 

What are the success rates for students who are referred to remediation but skip it and enroll directly in college-level courses?

CCRC researchers found that students who ignored a remedial placement and instead 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).

How do enrollment and pass rates in gatekeeper courses compare between college-ready and developmental students?

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).

Developmental Education Placement Exams

How many two-year colleges use placement exams to determine whether students need remediation?

Ninety-two percent of two-year institutions use scores on assessment tests for placement into remedial education (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011).

What are the most commonly used placement exams?

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).

What do we know about how well placement exam scores reflect students' college readiness?

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 Approaches to Developmental Education

What is accelerated developmental education?

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).

Do accelerated approaches to developmental education improve student success?

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).

Dual Enrollment and Dual-Credit Programs

How many high school students participate in dual enrollment?

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).

How many students take Advanced Placement classes?

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 537,428 in 1995 to over 1.3 million in 2005 (College Board, 2008).

Do students need to meet minimal requirements to enroll in dual enrollment courses?

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).

What evidence exists that supports the efficacy of dual enrollment in increasing college success?

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.

(Hughes, Karp, & Stacey, 2012)

Online Education

How many college students take online courses?

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). 

What do we know about community college student performance in fully online courses?

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, 2013Xu & 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, 2013Xu & 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, 2013Xu & 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, 2013Xu & Jaggars, 2010).

Do some students perform better than others in fully online courses?

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, 2013Xu & Jaggars, 2013).

Transfer to Four-Year Colleges

How many entering community college students transfer to a four-year college within five years?

While 81% of entering community college students indicate they want a bachelor's degree or higher, only 20% of these students actually transfer to a four-year institution within five years (Altstadt et al., 2014).

How many college students who transfer to four-year colleges complete a bachelor’s degree within six years?

Of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges, 62% complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.

 
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, non-profit, four-year institutions (20% of all transfers), 6o% 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 to 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 2005-6, 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)

How many community college students transfer to a four-year college without first earning an associate degree?

64% of entering community college students transfer to four-year colleges without first earning an associate degree. (Shapiro et al., 2013, Appendix Table 3, p. 64)

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