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Community Colleges

Tracking Community College Trends

By the Numbers
University Business, Feb 2012

Because community colleges serve such a diverse population and face unique challenges separate from their four-year peers, it’s important to monitor and analyze trends specific to these institutions. A recent policy brief from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) does just that, giving a 20-year overview of trends in educational attainment.

A significant portion of the research zeroed in on race as an indicator of increased success. Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at AACC, says,“Our community colleges cover almost every square inch of the country. I think it’s encouraging to see that there’s a larger percent increase for all students of color as compared to white students to show there’s a ramping up of [enrollment of] these students.”

Students of color—especially  Hispanics—had significant increases in earned credentials, enrollment, and associate degree attainment. From 1989-1990 through 2009-2010, degree attainment by this group increased a whopping 383 percent; among white students, that increase was 52 percent.

% Increase in Associate Degree Attainment by Race*

  • Hispanic—383%
  • Asian/Pacific Islander—230%
  • Black—204%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native—182%
  • White—52%

*Based on community college data from 1989-1990 through 2009-2010

Source: The Road Ahead: A Look at Trends in the Educational Attainment of Community College Students,” American Association of Community Colleges—Policy Brief 2011–04PBL

Another issue for campus leaders involves tracking transfers. Mullin points to research on transfer credit acceptance. When all of students’ credits transferred to a four-year institution, 82 percent completed a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 42 percent who only had some credits transfer over.

And completion isn’t the only issue. Transfers are also very difficult to track once they’ve moved on, as they often don’t notify an institution when they’re leaving, Mullin says. “It presents an inaccurate picture and people publicly come out and say ‘their [graduation] rates are low and they’re not doing a good job,’” he says. “That can influence policy decisions.”

The full policy brief can be accessed at