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Can Community Colleges Afford to Improve Completion? Measuring the Costs and Efficiency Effects of College Reforms

By: Clive Belfield, Peter M. Crosta & Davis Jenkins

Community colleges are under pressure to increase completion rates and efficiency despite limited evidence of the economic consequences of different reform strategies. This paper introduces an economic model of student course pathways linked to college expenditures and revenues. Using detailed data from a single college, the authors calculate baseline efficiency and differences in efficiency for students who follow different pathways. They also simulate changes in output, expenditures, revenues, net revenues, and efficiency assuming that the college meets particular performance targets.

Results indicate substantial differences in efficiency across pathways and significant differences in efficiency across strategies to help students complete college. Findings also suggest that increasing the completion rate is difficult and typically requires additional resources beyond the costs of implementing particular strategies. The model has wide practical application for community colleges.

A version of this article appears in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 36, no. 3.