Albany forum focuses on improving community colleges statewide

Jan 13, 2014

A forum in Albany Friday focused on improving graduation rates in the state’s community colleges and unlocking the schools potential.

Erie Community College city campus.
Credit Some rights reserved / Reading Tom

Researchers from the Center for an Urban Future found that statewide 35% of 2-year community college students graduated in 6 years. They also found there are higher dropout rates within community colleges compared with 4-year CUNY schools.

The goal of the conference was to come up with strategies to get more students to graduate and be successful. Center for an Urban Future Senior Fellow Tom Hilliard says more investment and interest by state lawmakers would improve the schools, overall.

“What works in other states and at other colleges, as we’re finding out, is really telling the students what to do essentially, and making a step by step clear process that they’re going to go through in which they choose a major early and get the supports that they need,” said Hilliard.

Hilliard says community college graduates are vital to the state’s economy as the low-cost schools help graduates become contributing members to society.

“Community colleges are an important economic investment for the state, but over the past 10 years, state aid per student fell by 29 percent and county funding dropped by another seven percent, and that’s economic suicide,” said Hilliard.

Hilliard says offering student’s additional support at the college level would also improve student success. The services could include assistance choosing a major, tutoring, and career planning.

“We should not tolerate a situation where a student who enters a community college is more likely to dropout than graduate. That’s just not acceptable. So we need for state and local policy makers to really dig in their heels and say ‘We are going to work with community colleges to get that completion rate up to provide supports and to hold community colleges for getting it done,” said Hilliard.

Hilliard says some students might be taking longer to graduate because they’re working multiple jobs or dealing with other inhibiting circumstances. He says additional services for low-income students would also improve graduation rates.

“There’s a clear case that the state needs to be supporting community colleges more strongly and that they need to be supporting innovation and new ideas in community colleges. There needs to be a lot more creativity and use of innovation at the community college level to support their students and these are things that the state can jumpstart,” said Hilliard.