Those familiar with the retention and completion crisis in American community colleges are familiar with the human costs: students with diminished expectations, institutions struggling for legitimacy and economy lacking skilled workers.
Now, a new report has put a price tag on what it calls the “hidden costs” of community college: $4 billion over a five-year span ending in 2008-09 spent on students who did not make it past their first year.
The American Institutes for Research report, “The Hidden Costs of Community College” — underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — argues that contrary to common perception community colleges aren’t low-cost. In reality, they are very costly when the low levels of student success are taken into account, the report says.
State and local governments bore the lion’s share of the cost of attrition — $3 billion for students who did not return for a second year, another $240 million in grants to students. The federal government spent $660 million in student grants, mostly in the fast-growing Pell Grant program.
“Business as usual is far too expensive,” the report says. “Better ways are needed to ensure that students who enter community college expecting to earn an associate degree or a certificate finish the first lap and ultimately get to the finish line.”
The report makes several recommendations for improvement, including a focus on data-driven decision making with reliable metrics, harnessing technology and improving remediation.
The report can be found at: http://www.air.org.