Community College Dropouts Cost State Millions, New Report Says

by Jon Gonzalez, Staff Writer 544 views0

Community college students who drop out before transferring or graduating are costing California and other states billions of dollars, according to a new report.

The report, published by the American Institutes for Research, claims that California spent nearly $500 million on full-time community college dropouts from 2004-2009, the most of any state. California spent roughly 12 percent of the $4 billion that the nation did in total.

Of those full-time students, about 20 percent dropout after the first year. However, Eric Harnish, director of government relations at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, says the numbers may be a little skewed, considering students goals when enrolling at a community college.

“That can be misleading,” Harnish said. “Sometimes students come and they get what they need after a year.” He added that students often enroll in courses that will further their already-chosen career path, like welding or computer-programming classes, but are still considered dropouts because they do not transfer or graduate with a degree.

However, although only 20 percent of those students in the report dropped out after one year, they used up $3.85 billion of the money that was spent, nearly the entire total. Last year California spent $100 million on those same students.

“Taxpayers are investing billions of dollars to support students who never complete their first year,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at AIR and the author of the report. “And these students are paying tuition, borrowing money, and taking time away from work to pursue certificates or degrees they aren’t getting.”

One aspect the report did not look at was why students were dropping out so quickly, but stated that many of them were not prepared for college or do not have access to support services while enrolled. Harnish said COC is currently addressing these issues.

“This is something we’ve identified and see as a priority,” he said. “If they come in and they realize that they don’t have a clear goal in mind, they don’t see the need to continue.”

To help solve some of these problems, COC offers programs to help incoming and struggling students, like the First-Year Experience program. The program is designed for the school to work with incoming freshman and help them get familiar with the college, while guaranteeing them an early priority-registration date to ensure their enrollment in core classes, such as math and english. Harnish said the program, along with others that the college offers, fall under the state-wide Basic Skills Initiative.

“It’s aimed at reducing the so-called drop out rate,” he said. “Our research has shown that students who participate … are more likely to succeed in college.”

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