Tag Archives: community college

Preventing a “Lost Generation” of Community College Learners

This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here.

Monroe Community College Cafeteria, all seats at round tables empty, yellow overhead lighting

Photo by David Maiolo via Wikimedia

Community colleges have long served as an accessible and affordable post-secondary pathway to better jobs for high school graduates and adults looking to upskill. For example, the median weekly earnings for someone with an associate’s degree are 17% higher than for those with only a high school diploma or a GED. Community colleges are particularly important for traditionally underserved students: compared to students at four-year colleges, community college students are more likely to be the first in their families to attend college, to be from a low-income family, and to be members of racial or ethnic minority groups. 

This is one reason why the steep declines in community college enrollment this fall are especially troubling. According to newly released data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), undergraduate enrollments across the country are down 4.0 percent compared to the same time last year, with the biggest losses being at community colleges, where enrollments declined by 9.4 percent, on fall enrollments. 

Before the pandemic, there were approximately 5.5 million students enrolled in community college nationally. A 9.4 percent enrollment decrease equals about 520,000 students that have “stopped out” of community college, at least temporarily. This group of students is at risk of being a “lost generation” of learners. Dr. Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping community colleges become leaders in their communities, told The Well News: “The pandemic, if we are unable to find students we lost and keep students we serve, and open up new access points for new students, will result in a lost generation of learners that will hurt the economic and civic fabrics of the communities our colleges serve.” 

Why are more community college students “stopping out” of college relative to four-year students? We know from our work that, in aggregate, community college students often face more barriers on their road to completion. This excerpt from an April NEA Today article sheds some light:

Students who are first-generation, who are on financial aid, who face challenges around hunger, housing, transportation, and who are balancing work, childcare, and more, “they are all being adversely affected in ways that make those inequities more stark and more exacerbated,” says [Kurt Meyer, an English professor at Irvine Valley College in California and president of the South Orange County Community College District Faculty Association], who notes a five-fold increase in South Orange County college students recently applying for emergency funds to pay rent, fix cars, and more.

One major challenge is that many community colleges were struggling financially even before the pandemic and are likely to see further financial challenges as a result of the pandemic. Not only are many schools facing losses of income from reduced enrollment and unexpected refunds, but many are facing additional financial challenges caused by cuts in state funding. Lakeland Community College in Ohio, for example, will lose over $780,000 in state funding by the end of June 2020 and expects to lose over $4 million for the fiscal year ending in 2021. Similar cases can be found around the country, and many community colleges have been forced to furlough and lay off faculty and staff.

So, what can leaders do to ensure that we don’t lose a generation of students to COVID disruptions and increasingly tight financial constraints?  Continue reading

Community Colleges Have an Important Role to Play in Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce

You may have noticed recent media attention focused on the issue of whether early childhood educators need college degrees. Proponents argue that degrees will lead to greater respect and compensation for early childhood educators and ultimately better results for children. Opponents argue degree requirements are unlikely to increase wages and will hurt the diversity of the early childhood workforce.

But no one is discussing the type of programs early childhood educators are likely to attend — let alone considering the quality of these programs.

Here’s what we know: most early childhood educators looking to obtain a degree attend community college. There are many reasons for this. Community college is affordable and attractive to early childhood educators juggling work and family responsibilities. Beyond practical reasons, early childhood educators attend community college because they have few other choices — the majority of early childhood degree programs in the U.S. are located at two-year institutions.

My new report, “It Takes a Community: Leveraging Community College Capacity to Transform the Early Childhood Workforce,” examines the critical role community colleges play in preparing early childhood educators, details the various challenges these institutions face in helping early educators obtain degrees, and identifies best practices that can address these challenges.

In the last three years since the National Academy of Medicine published “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through 8: A Unifying Foundation,” there has been increased interest in how community colleges can contribute to increasing the number of lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees. It Takes a Community offers recommendations for community college leaders, early childhood advocates, and policymakers seeking to maximize the potential of community colleges to support professional development and credential attainment for early childhood educators.

The paper highlights that any realistic discussion of transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the key role community colleges play in shaping the early childhood workforce. Ultimately, policymakers interested in transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the community college landscape and adopt a clear vision for the role community colleges will play in preparing and developing early childhood workers.

(For more discussion of these issues, tune into a livestream on Monday, February 26th of a panel discussion hosted by New America. I’ll be joined by Shayna Cook of New America, Kathy Glazer of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, Sue Russell, of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center, and Jeneen Interlandi of New York Times Magazine.)