Ivana Estrada attributes her success to LaGuardia. But her experience, while inspirational, is not typical of community college students nationwide. The reality, according to a new book on the state of American community college education, is low graduation and retention rates and fewer resources to handle increasing enrollments.
In Defending the Community College Equity Agenda
, researchers point out that community colleges are key in providing higher education and can serve as a bridge to the middle class for immigrants, people of color, and those in the lowest income brackets. But achieving that mission has been difficult, say the book's authors. Although four-fifths of the students entering community colleges say that their goal is to earn a bachelor's degree or higher, only 18 percent actually do that within eight years of their enrollment date.
That's not only very low but very troubling, considering that nearly 50 percent of all credit-earning undergraduates in the United States
are enrolled in community colleges. "I think people are often surprised at that number," says Thomas Bailey, co-editor of the new volume and director of the Community College Research Center
at Columbia University
's Teachers College. "These are institutions that aren't on the radar." In spite of less funding and low graduation rates, enrollment continues to grow at community colleges. Bailey explains this in two parts. First, there are simply more college-aged students in the U.S.
now, a result of immigration and the echo boom (baby boomers' children). Second, the growing necessity of at least some post--high school training and the high costs of four-year schools mean more people are choosing community colleges because of their low cost and accessibility.
This article appeared in the January 9, 2007 edition of the Village Voice.