Community colleges can play a pivotal role in providing individuals with viable pathways into the American middle class, maintaining a strong workforce, and building a competitive 21st-century economy. Delivering on this promise requires innovative solutions to increase the number of community college students who complete a postsecondary credential or degree.
These policy recommendations, part of a new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy, are designed to help college leaders, employers, researchers, and policymakers identify steps to improve community college completion rates.
Improving community college completion rates should be a top priority for policymakers at all levels of government, employers, community colleges, and the philanthropic community. Earning a postsecondary credential or degree provides a gateway to higher average earnings and opens up career pathways for graduates, while higher completion rates help strengthen the American workforce. Yet, far too many students who enroll in community college do not complete a degree. While not the subject of this analysis, academic and financial barriers loom large for many students. Ongoing efforts to improve the quality of public K-12 education and to make college more affordable are essential to improving completion rates.
As discussed at length in the full report, improving completion rates also requires addressing structural and motivational barriers that students face. Transitioning from the cafeteria-style model to a guided pathways approach is a promising strategy to reduce structural barriers. These structural changes can pave the way for helping students overcome motivational barriers (Oyserman and Lewis 2017). In addition, through EV interventions, instructors can help students perceive the relevance of their coursework for their lives.
Community colleges hold enormous potential for students across the United States. Realizing this full potential is vital for students to obtain the education and training they need to pursue their career goals, obtain good-paying jobs, and contribute to a vibrant American economy. Moving forward, we must invest in innovative, evidence-based solutions, enable students to complete postsecondary credentials and degrees, and ultimately help them achieve their academic and career goals.
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