California’s community colleges have done a bang-up job of getting students in the door, but a terrible job of making sure they graduate.
Six years after enrolling, less than half of 2.2 million students had earned an associate’s degree or transferred to a university, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Graduation rates are considerably lower for black and Latino students, many of whom come to college ill-served by their high schools and unprepared to do college-level work. And a host of attempts to improve on graduation rates have gone nowhere. Over the last decade, the graduation rate has slipped 1%.
Now the state is taking a blunt approach: using funding levels to force reform. Instead of basing the state dollars that community colleges receive entirely on the number of students who come through the door, as has been the case, the schools will also be rewarded for the number of students who graduate or transfer. Forty percent of state community college money — that’s nearly $2.5 billion — has been tied to the schools’ effectiveness in improving student outcomes and in educating low-income students.