Cost-cutting policies have hurt community college students and weakened the capacity of those colleges to produce returns to students and taxpayers. To address this, many colleges are instituting reforms to help more students graduate with useful credentials. While these efforts lower the cost per completion (and thus increase college efficiency), they increase expenditures per student.
This article argues that the emphasis of policy and practice moving forward should be on improving efficiency: the cost per completion of a high-quality credential. The quality of that credential can be evaluated in part by tracking graduates' employment, income, and further education. However, the authors note that such monitoring should not be used to rank colleges, which operate under differing local circumstances.
This article is based on a longer paper titled Community College Economics for Policymakers: The One Big Fact and the One Big Myth (CCRC Working Paper No. 67).
This article appears in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, vol. 46, no. 3.