Today’s economic climate is a tough one for higher education as state support withers in the face of other pressing demands — and community colleges often face the biggest cuts. While community colleges offer an affordable two-year education to students who are unsure about which career they want to pursue or who just want to get some general education courses out of the way before transferring to a four-year university, these schools often lack important services and support for students.
Education Week notes that “while 79 percent of entering students [at community colleges] say they want to complete an associate degree, just 45 percent meet that goal in six years.” That statistic would be abysmal coming from a four-year university, but it is the norm with community colleges. What can community colleges do to support their students and boost degree completion rates?
Get them up to speed
Many students entering community colleges are not prepared for college-level work in math, reading and writing. Placement tests to assess incoming students’ skills can ensure that someone reading at an eighth-grade level receives tutoring or is placed in a remedial reading class before taking college-level literature courses. No one likes to be overwhelmed, and placing students in classes where they will be challenged — but not left behind — is one way to keep them in the classroom. Make these remedial programs mandatory so that no one can opt out.
Provide child care
Most students in community colleges have other responsibilities, including jobs and caring for children. Free or very inexpensive on-site childcare is one way to make sure that parents can get an education while knowing that their children are being cared for in a secure environment. On-site child care also provides an opportunity for elementary education students to interact with young children as part of their curriculum.
Four-year colleges and universities provide tons of support services for students who need to talk about personal or academic problems — deans, advisers, counselors, pastors. Community colleges should do the same, and encourage communication with these professionals. They can often point out simple solutions to problems that may seem insurmountable to students, and direct them to the appropriate services.
As the cost of higher education continues to rise, more and more students will look to community colleges for the first two years of their degree. Right now the community college in my city is better known for the no-credit art and sports classes it provides for the general community than the educational services for its degree-seeking students. That definitely needs to change. Community colleges need to begin taking their students — and themselves — more seriously.
Photo credit: Sterling College