Community Colleges

Leading the Charge for Change

Community college leaders speak out

Leaders from 16 community colleges around the country gathered at the White House in September to participate in a roundtable discussion on the role community colleges play in America. The discussion was part of the Obama administration’s Champions of Change program, a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping to meet the many challenges of the 21st century. Education Gateways recently spoke to four of the Champions of Change honorees about the challenges and opportunities they face as presidents of their institutions.

Helping Students Access Financial Aid

At one time, each of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges ran its own financial aid office by its own rules. Ten years later, the Connecticut Community College System has doubled the number of students. Now all 12 colleges use FAFSA alone to determine eligibility. All use the same “satisfactory academic progress” requirement for students who receive aid and those who don’t. Simplifying eligibility rules and centralizing some functions freed financial aid staffers to focus on helping students instead of pushing paper, Marc Herzog, the former chancellor, told the College Board.

When Employed Students Stumble

Community college students who hold jobs are less likely to finish school. What are institutions doing to increase degree completion?

Working one’s way through college is the norm for community college students: 85 percent work part- or full-time. With an average tuition bill of $2,713 a year, only 13 percent turn to student loans.

But long work hours have a high cost, concludes a 2011 report by the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center. Only 21 percent of first-time, full-time community college students complete a degree or certificate in three years. The six-year completion or transfer rate is 31 percent. Part-timers, who make up 59 percent of enrollment, do even worse.

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