Report: Community Colleges Need More Support to Graduate Underrepresented Students

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Despite enrolling a disproportionately large number of underrepresented students, community colleges have been subject to a history of limited funding and inadequate resources to increase completion rates, according to a new report from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). The report argues that a federal-state partnership, in which new funds would be tied to states’ efforts to keep tuition prices low, would help to set these students up for success.  

The report, released Thursday, looked at changes in state and local funding for higher education between 2006 and 2016, and found that while more underrepresented students, (which TICAS senior policy analyst Lindsay Ahlman defined as black, Latino, American/Indian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Island students), enrolled in universities and colleges during that time, community colleges enrolled the highest share (growing from 29% of their enrollment in 2006 to 38% in 2016). At the same time, by 2016 — as states began to slowly reinvest in higher education after the Great Recession — community colleges received almost the same funding per student as graduate schools, and only 65% of the funding per student ($2,900 less) that doctoral schools received, which enrolled 23% of those students, Ahlman found.

“The status quo of funding for public colleges does not provide a workable path to achieving racial equity in degree attainment. Spending is directly connected to student success, and schools cannot spend money they do not have,” Ahlman said in a press release. “The evidence shows that, even as many states are investing in public colleges, these disparities in resources by race continue year after year.”

Ahlman also found that while both undergraduate and graduate schools increased their tuition during those years to compensate for decreases in funding, community colleges have “limited ability to increase tuition to fully offset state and local support,” and as a result saw a 5% decline in their total per-student revenue between 2006 and 2011, while all other institution-types saw increases. Between 2006 and 2016, tuition at community colleges increased by $850 per student, compared to $5,000 per student at doctoral universities.

While not all efforts to increase college completion involve increases in funding, Ahlman wrote that “poorly resourced colleges are unlikely to be able to strengthen the academic and non-academic supports that are key to driving student success.” For example, she found that the graduation rate of community colleges in California in 2016 — which enrolled 75% of underrepresented students in public colleges — was just 30%, compared to 83% at doctoral universities, which enrolled only 8% of that population.  

"Our public universities and community colleges should be some of our country's most important institutions for equal opportunity, but they aren't working that way," TICAS President James Kvaal said in a press release. "Black, Latino, and other students of color are most likely to attend underfunded colleges where they are less likely to graduate."

Ahlman wrote that a partnership between the federal government and the states that would offer new federal funds to states that maintain or lower the price of public colleges for middle- and low-income students would “set a new foundation of affordability,” and “establish a foundation to support states through economic downturns in order to avoid recreating the steep cuts following the Great Recession that disproportionately impacted underrepresented students of color.”

“In order to make progress on closing persistent gaps in college attainment by race, states and the federal government must increase their commitment and work together to ensure public college funding is both adequate and equitable,” Alhman wrote.


Publication Date: 8/30/2019

Joel T | 8/30/2019 3:2:56 PM

As a financial aid professional that is working at a 2-year public that has modules, I must tell you that I disagree with that part of your suggestion. We're currently in the process of moving away from 4-week modules for developmental courses and getting back to 8-week/16-week courses so that students have an opportunity to learn the material at a more manageable pace and help increase their persistence.

Furthermore, the average age of our student population is 26 years old, females make up 61% of our total population, and 65.5% of our population is attending part-time. Simple numbers tell you that a majority of our students are working females and we know, based off of FAFSA data, that a heavy percentage of them have dependents. There's no way that you could ever mandate that student population take full time courses without providing a salary and free child care.

The true mission of the community college is to have an egalitarian entry with a meritocratic exit. We take people where we are and get them to where they want to be. Sometimes that's a one course for enrichment purposes, other times it's a credential for a job, and sometimes it's help them complete an Associate degree so that they can continue the path towards an advanced degree.

It has not been, and never should be, in our goals to tell students how to pursue and attain their education because it differs for all.

Jeff A | 8/30/2019 9:38:46 AM

The only way to truly have meaningful improvement in outcomes at institutions serving adult students, that skews heavily toward underrepresented students, is to raise the levels of engagement.
Yes, that includes funding, but primarily it means a fundamental change to the delivery of higher education for these students. Hiring faculty with 12 month teaching commitments, and a culture where the expectation is set for students to attend full-time, year-round, and preferably in modules so students take no more than 2 classes at a time.
It works extremely well, and this level of engagement is really the only way you will dramatically improve success rates. increased funding is only a small part of the solution.

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