Community Colleges: Gateway or Blockade?

Community colleges will soon be the single largest sector in postsecondary education. Their enrollment rate has grown at a fast clip: almost 375 percent in a little over three decades. (Compare that to about 103 percent for public four-year schools, and only about 72 percent for private four-year schools.)

A number of converging forces are pushing more students to enter higher education through the portals of two-year colleges:

  • The increasing number of high school graduates;
  • The increasing proportion of low-income and minority students;
  • Stricter admissions requirements at four-year institutions; and
  • Escalating college tuitions.
National data show that performance gaps among racial groups in the transition from high school to college have been narrowing. But the gaps widen again in baccalaureate completion (49 percent of Asian-Americans who complete high school attain a four-year degree; only 6 percent of Latinos do so). Why?

The biggest reason is that the majority of students of color who attend postsecondary education initially enroll in two-year community colleges. They then fail to transfer to complete their four-year degree. This points to faults with the 2/4 transfer policies.

With this red flag looming, state focus nationwide should be on policy priorities that ensure that 2/4 transfers are successful in bringing students to the baccalaureate.

But is it? If a qualified, motivated student enters a two-year program, is there a high probability that the student will transfer to a four-year program and attain the degree? Or is there more probability that the student will end up with a lesser credential?


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