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Community College Enrollment and Completion

Community College Enrollment and Completion

Provisional NCES data on unduplicated year-round enrollment (as opposed to fall enrollment only) indicate that 8.7 million undergraduates were enrolled in public two-year colleges in 2016–17.

In fall 2017, 5.8 million students were enrolled in public, two-year colleges. About 2.1 million were full-time students, and 3.7 million were part-time. About 6.1 million were enrolled in all types of two-year colleges.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center estimates that 5.4 million students were enrolled in public two-year colleges in fall 2019, down 1.4% from fall 2018.

In fall 2017, 34 percent of undergraduate students attended public two-year colleges (17 percent of full-time undergraduates and 58 percent of part-time undergraduates).

Federal data on the year-round student population show that 38 percent of undergraduates attended public two-year colleges in 2016–17.

Among all students who completed a degree at a four-year college in 2015–16, 49 percent had enrolled at a two-year college in the previous 10 years. Nearly 6 percent attended community colleges only as high school dual enrollment students. Of former community college students who earned a bachelor's degree in 2015–16, 22 percent were enrolled for only one term, but 63 percent were enrolled at a two-year public institution for three or more terms.

Texas had the most former community college students among bachelor's degree earners in 2015–16 with 75 percent. Rhode Island had the fewest with 24 percent.

About 55 percent of dependent students with family incomes below $30,000 in 2011–12 started at a community college. For students with family incomes of $106,000 or more, it was 23 percent (BPS2014 via QuickStats).

Among college students who first enrolled in fall 2010, 49 percent of Black students and 51 percent of Hispanic students started at a two-year public college, compared with 36 percent of White students and 38 percent of Asian students.

In fall 2017, 44 percent of Hispanic undergraduates were enrolled at community colleges, compared with 35 percent of Black students and 31 percent of White students. Overall, 34 percent of undergraduates were enrolled at community colleges.

The National Center for Education Statistics collects information on family income for independent community college students and students dependent on their parents. The table below shows the proportion of students overall, dependent students, and independent students who fell into each income category in 2016 (NPSAS 2015–16).

 Income Overall Dependent Independent
 Less than $20,000 37% 23% 47%
 $20,000–49,999 30% 28% 31%
 $50,000 and up 33% 49% 22%

Among students who started college in fall 2016 at a public two-year college, 62.2 percent were still enrolled at any institution in fall 2017. Just under 49 percent returned to the same college. The one-year persistence rate of students who started full-time was 70.6 percent; for part-time starters, it was 55.6 percent.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, among first-time college students who enrolled in a community college in the fall of 2013 either part-time or full-time, 40.8% earned a credential from a two- or four-year institution within six years. That figure excludes dual enrollment students.

The six-year completion rate for Asian students who started at a community college in the fall of 2013 was 49.8%. For White students it was 49.2%, for Hispanic students it was 37.1%, and for Black students it was 28.8%.

About 16.7% of students who started at community colleges in 2013 completed a degree at a four-year institution within six years. Asian and White students who started at community colleges earned bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than the overall average (26.4% and 21.6% respectively). Hispanic (13.8%) and Black students (9.9%) earned bachelor’s degrees at rates lower than the average.

The most recent national data indicate that 14% of dependent students with family incomes in the lowest income quartile (less than $30,000) who started at a public two-year college in 2003–04 completed an associate degree by 2009. An additional 6% earned a certificate, and 13% earned a bachelor's degree.

Among students in the second-lowest income quartile ($30,000–$64,999) who started at a public two-year college in 2003–04, 18% completed an associate degree by 2009. An additional 7% earned a certificate, and 16% earned a bachelor's degree.

Fifty-three percent of students who graduated in 2012 from low-poverty high schools (where less than 25% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch) earned a degree within six years of graduation compared with 21% of students from high-poverty schools (where at least 75% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch).

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