Teachers College, Columbia University

The Potential of Community Colleges as Bridges to Opportunity for the Disadvantaged: Can It Be Achieved on a Large Scale?

Policy groups and funders concerned with alleviating poverty are increasingly turning their attention to community colleges because of their potential to expand access to postsecondary education and careers. With this increased scrutiny has come the realization that community colleges have not fully realized their potential as a bridge to opportunity for the disadvantaged.

The paper argues that community colleges fail to fully realize this potential for two primary reasons. First, many find it difficult to make the connections—between remedial and college-credit programs, between academic and occupational degree programs, and between degree programs and jobs—that are necessary for creating pathways of advancement for disadvantaged students.

Second, it is expensive to serve disadvantaged students, and community colleges are poorly funded. As a result, many community colleges opt to focus their limited resources on serving more advantaged students in programs popular with employers and policymakers, rather than risk serving students whose success is by no means assured.

The paper lays out recommendations for how community colleges could more effectively serve disadvantaged students.