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MOBILITY MAKERS: Increasing Community College Graduation Rate Would Boost Economy, Report Finds

“Community colleges have long been the overlooked stepchildren of the educational system.”

Increasing graduation rates at New York City’s six community colleges by just 10 percentage points for the class that entered in 2009 would provide a $71 million one-year boost to the city and state, according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City–based think tank.

“Community colleges have long been the overlooked stepchildren of the educational system,” the report notes. “But because of profound structural changes in the U.S. economy over the past several years, community colleges have become increasingly critical to the nation’s economic competitiveness and the key platform for moving low-income people into the middle class.”

The report finds that none of the five most populous cities in the United States has a four-year graduation rate higher than 20 percent among their community colleges. Los Angeles (20 percent) has the highest graduation rate, followed by New York City (19 percent), Philadelphia (14 percent), Houston (14 percent), and Chicago (10 percent).

Of the 10,185 students who started at a City University of New York (CUNY) community college in 2004, a “staggering” 63 percent dropped out within six years, the report finds. Of those who remained, 20 percent earned a CUNY associate’s degree, 8 percent earned a bachelor’s degree, and 9 percent were still enrolled. The report estimates that each community college dropout has a combined public cost of roughly $17,783 in wasted federal, state, and local aid.

“Low graduation rates are a chronic problem around the country,” the report notes. “They cannot be separated from other dilemmas our nation faces: low high school graduation rates, weak college preparation among those who do obtain their high school diplomas, economic dislocations that drive many adults back to school for retraining, and state and local budgets that lag far behind the fiscal needs of the institutions on the frontlines of postsecondary learning.”

The report notes that 80 percent of CUNY community college students must take at least one remedial class; 30 percent work more than twenty hours per week at a job. It offers several recommendations for improving graduation rates among community college students, including developing career pathways for students; identifying gaps in college readiness and transitions; documenting employment outcomes; and providing greater funding, among others.

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