By now everybody kind of knows that community colleges should do a better job graduating students and preparing them to transfer. But what is a “better job,” anyway? How much progress can colleges really make?

Byron McClenney of Achieving the Dream, a national project to improve community colleges, argued at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development that community colleges could make big gains. According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed:

[McClenney] argued that… real gains are possible, especially since most of the progress took place only after years of experimentation. He cited a number of such policies that are now in place at these institutions and other Achieving the Dream participants: mandatory assessment and placement tests, mandatory study skills courses for those in need of remediation, mandatory orientation programs, and strictly enforced registration deadlines (so students can’t enroll so late in a course that success is unlikely).

Houston Community College, for instance, had 48 percent of freshman returned for a sophomore year in 2004, four years later 54 percent of freshman came back next year. At Broward Community College, in Fort Lauderdale, only 58 percent of freshman returned for a sophomore year in 2004. Four years later 68 percent of freshman returned a year later.

These schools, however, are just a sample and their progress isn’t that great. Ideally wouldn’t something like 100 percent of freshman return for a sophomore year? It seems like there’s only so far mandatory study skills courses and registration deadlines can help students.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer