Most 2-Year Students Quit

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(Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

Most City University of New York community college students drop out before graduating, squandering the system’s resources as enrollment soars, according to a report set to be released on Monday.

The study by the Center for an Urban Future, a Manhattan think tank, highlights a problem with national implications: Too many students arrive at community colleges without having learned basic reading and math concepts. Most must take developmental courses that provide no credit toward a degree but still cost as much as college-level courses.

Community college students’ “chances of dropout are far higher than students who test into college-level courses immediately,” the report said.

About 51% of the city’s community college students leave school before earning an associates or bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment, the report said. Another 12% transfer out of the community college system, but there are no data on how many finish school.

Only 28% get associates or bachelor’s degrees within six years, the report found. Nationally, 26% get degrees, a number that has been essentially flat for several years. This statistic helped spark a $35-million effort by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to boost community college graduation rates.

A CUNY spokesman said in a statement that the system had made efforts to boost graduation rates. But he noted that “almost four out of every five freshman who arrive at its community colleges with a high school degree require remediation in reading, writing or mathematics.”

The spokesman, Michael Arena, added: “The challenge is to replicate and scale up CUNY’s proven strategies to improve community college graduation rates.”

Attendance at the city’s six community colleges—the nation’s largest municipal system—has soared to 91,000 students, a 43% increase over the past decade, the report said. Those students have an uphill road toward a degree. Community colleges have limited resources to help them navigate the maze of remedial and required courses needed to complete school, experts said.

“Community colleges are probably the most underappreciated part of the education system, and not just in New York,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of Center for an Urban Future.

Katie Dodson, 19 years old, dropped out of Rockland Community College after a year but has since enrolled in the Borough of Manhattan Community College, with a goal of a career in physical therapy or journalism. Ms. Dodson said she hopes to transfer to Baruch or Hunter College, but she said she’s been given little guidance.

“I’m having a hard time figuring out how to transfer,” she said. “I feel like I have to figure it out on my own.”

Thomas Bailey, director of Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College, said such concerns are common. “A lot of students don’t know what they want and we don’t have a good way of helping them figuring it out,” Mr. Bailey said. “It’s not surprising they get lost.”

The low graduation rates come at a cost, Mr. Bowles said. On average, each community college dropout in New York City costs about $17,700 in federal and state financial aid and in city and state funding for running the community college system, the report found.

A college degree has a substantial impact on earning potential. New Yorkers between the ages of 25 and 29 with only a high school degree earn an average of $17,000, the report found. Those with associate’s degrees earn $29,000 on average, and those with bachelor’s degrees earn $40,000.

CUNY said its attempts to help new students include opening a new hybrid public high school and community college in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Students there can earn high school diplomas and associate degrees. “The main challenges are to have a solid foundation in algebra and literacy,” said principal Rashid Davis.

CUNY plans to open its first new community college in decades. New Community College, near Bryant Park in Manhattan, will give each student a mentor.

“The biggest work was organizing ourselves so what we can give students the support they need,” said school president Scott Evenbeck. “We forget how important it is to focus on students in their first years.”

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