Community Colleges: The Graduation Problem

It turns out that community colleges, which often struggle for financial support, actually have rather perverse funding structures. According to an article by Joanne Jacobs at Community College Spotlight (published by Teachers College at Columbia University):

[Community college] funding rewards enrollment, not success.

[For instance,] Broome Community College’s three-year federal graduation rate is nearly 28 percent, above the national average of around 23 percent. It’s ranked 15th in the nation for student retention out of 210 colleges that submitted data in the National Community College Benchmark Project. Some 87 percent of Broome graduates who transfer to a four-year institution complete a bachelor’s degree, the best performance among New York’s 30 community colleges.

But Broome was hit by a 15 percent cut in state funding.

The trouble, as Broome’s president explained to Inside Higher Ed, is that New York State’s funding formula (like that of other states) allocates money to schools based on enrollment. This means that if students earn their degrees reasonably swiftly and get jobs or transfer out, the school loses money. The school would get more funding if students stayed in the system longer.

Now obviously no school wants to fail; community colleges don’t work to keep students in without degrees. But as it is now there’s not much incentive for colleges to do a good job helping students complete their programs. Colleges simply aren’t rewarded for such behavior.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

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