A cornerstone of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s strategy for making higher education more affordable involves the state’s 23 community colleges. First and foremost, community colleges charge lower tuition than four-year colleges. Second, college-transfer programs enable students to combine two years of relatively inexpensive community college with two years of more costly four-year college to earn a four-year degree. And third, the dual-enrollment program allows students to earn community college credits in high school.
None of these is working as well as it should, concludes the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in a comprehensive study released today: “Operations and Performance of the Virginia Community College System.”
In the 2015-16 academic year, Virginia’s community colleges enrolled about 111,000 full-time-equivalent students. But only 39% earned a degree or credential that would further their education or improve their prospects in the job market, the study revealed.
There is a cost — to both the student and the state — when a student enrolls in community college but does not attain a credential. The median number of credits earned by non degree-completing students was 42 — the equivalent of nearly a year and a half of full-time attendance at a community college. States the study:
In FY16, a single community college credit cost a student $142.50 in tuition and fees, and cost the state $106.85 in general fund appropriations. At these rates, those 42 credits would cost a student approximately $5,985, either out-of-pocket, or through state, federal, or institutional financial aid. The cost in state general fund appropriations would be about $4,490, bringing the total investment to approximately $10,470 for an individual student.
The problem is most acute among certain groups: older, part-time students, lower-income students, students who are the first in their family to attend college, and students who require remedial course work in English and math.
The community college system permits open enrollment to anyone with a high school diploma. But a majority of students in JLARC’s cohort analysis needed at least one remedial course at some point in their community college studies. Only one-third of students who enrolled in remedial courses ended up earning a credential within seven years, compared to almost half who did not require remedial courses.
JLARC suggested that many community-college students could benefit from academic advising. Ideally, with better guidance, they would pay for fewer courses and be more likely to successfully complete their degree or certification in a more timely manner.
The study team also found that the dual enrollment program is not clearly reducing the time or resources that students invest in earning higher education credentials. Dual enrollment students typically accumulate more credits than their non-enrollment peers.
Finally, the study called into question the utility of the college-transfer program:
Transfer students who earned a bachelor’s degree took longer and earned more credits than their counterparts who started college in a four-year institution. Transfer agreements between the state’s community colleges and four-year institution have proliferated, are not kept up to date, and are not sufficiently accessible to students, making them difficult for students to understand and leverage.
JLARC suggested that streamlining the transfer agreements and making them more accessible would save time and money.There are currently no comments highlighted.