Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Failure To Launch? Community College Students Can't Meet Higher Goals

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Ivy Tech Community College in Anderson

For-profit colleges may be taking their lumps these days, but federal data released last week suggest community colleges have a problem of their own:

Students aren’t meeting their own goals for earning degrees.

Compared to the early 90′s, more community college students entered school this century aspiring to degrees higher than a bachelors’, the data show. But after five years, fewer students have earned a certificate of any sort.

Here are some of the findings from the report, released last Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, comparing community college students entering school in 1989-90, 1995-96, and 2003-04:

  • Students are aiming for higher degrees. 44.1 percent of students entering community college for the first time in 2003-04 aspired to earn “above a bachelors’ degree,” compared to less than one-third of students in 1989-90.
  • Fewer students earned a diploma within five years. By 2009, one in five students who started in 2003-04 had attained a certificate, bachelors’, associates’ degree. Compare that with 37.7 percent of students who started in 1989-90 who earned a certificate or better by 1994.
  • Transfers to four-year colleges earning fewer degrees. In 2008, 44.9 percent of community college students who transferred to a four-year college had earned a degree or certificate within five years. In 1994, that figure was 60.7 percent.
  • Six-year completion rates worse among lower incomes. In 2001, 38.9 percent of students in the bottom 25 percent of total income had completed a certificate or degree within six years. By 2009, that figure was 29.8 percent.

To some community college administrators, these numbers reflect a sobering reality: community colleges have to do better at getting students across the finish line.

As Jack Scott, chancellor of the California Community College system, told the San Diego Times-Union:

Student success is the number one issue among community colleges throughout the nation. The Obama administration made it very clear that they wanted to see a greater degree of college completion. In our younger population — 25 to, say, 40 years of age —we’re not leading the world anymore in college education. We led the world, if you go up to, say, 45 to 64. We don’t anymore in our younger group because other nations are moving very rapidly because they understand that if they’re going to compete in a global economy that education is the key.

Performance among Indiana’s certificate- and associates’ degree-seeking students seems to echo these underwhelming figures for community colleges.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems reports 56.4 percent of Indiana students seeking four-year degrees finish within six years, slightly better than the U.S. average. But not even a quarter of Indiana students working towards two-year degrees finish within three years — below the national average.

Where Does Ivy Tech Fit In?

At Ivy Tech Community College’s Central Indiana campus in Indianapolis, 5 percent of students graduated on-time.

A quarter of Ivy Tech Central Indiana students transferred to another institution. What happened once they arrived?

An Indiana University report found Ivy Tech students who transferred to an IU campus continued their studies at the same rate as other transfer students, but often didn’t earn grades as high as their peers:

Transfer students who last attended Ivy Tech and those who most recently attended another postsecondary institution return for at least one semester during their next year (or graduate) at IU at about the same rate…

At Bloomington and Southeast, Ivy Tech transfers have significantly lower retention rates than other transfer students, whereas at IUPUI and Kokomo, Ivy Tech transfers have significantly higher retention rates than other transfer students.

Transfer students from Ivy Tech earn an average cumulative GPA of 2.46 during their first year at IU. The average cumulative GPA for transfer students who previously attended other postsecondary institutions is 2.69, for a difference of 0.23…

Ivy Tech transfers at Bloomington, IUPUI, Northwest, South Bend, and Southeast have significantly lower cumulative GPAs than other transfer students on those campuses…

Ivy Tech has sought to improve its course offerings by overhauling its remediation programs. The community college system is using a $1 million grant to pilot a new system for remediating students while simultaneously preparing them for college-level courses.

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s Commissioner for Higher Education, says Ivy Tech’s remediation redesign will, in part, keep at-risk students from falling through the cracks.

“You have either high school students coming to Ivy Tech not prepared academically, or an adult population coming back unprepared and needing to take these remediation courses. They’re often not successful,” Lubbers tells StateImpact.


  • lc

    It’s not just about students not graduating on time or at all. I am in a program that requires it’s students to take each of the required courses in a specific order, and if the classes you need are not offered in the semester you need them in, tough luck. If my program decides to not offer the last two courses that I’ll need to finish my degree this coming summer, I’ll have to wait until fall. It’s not just me, their are plenty of other students needing the same classes, but it all depends on whether or not any of the instructors want to teach over the summer. That means I will only be able to complete 17 credit hours in 12 months, which doesn’t fit into the time frame that I had aspired to when I began this degree. If colleges want their students to be successful, then don’t stand in the way of their goals.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Interesting perspective, LC. What type of degree are you going for? Associates? A certificate? In what field?

  • Kristen Thomas

    Look at the younger at risk students that are discussed in this piece. These students are likely working and maybe they have families to support. What sort of things are in place to support these students? Do they have access to affordable day care for their children? Are they part-time students? Are they single parents? Are they getting enough support from instructors and staff? What about financial assistance, are they receiving enough so they can be full-time students? Are the classes offered at times that fit into a working adult life style? There are lots of factors here that effect non-traditional students. A large population of people that attend community colleges are non-traditional students. Also people get discouraged when they find out they have to take tons of remedial courses.

  • MM

    Many of our state legislators work for Ivy Tech, in a potential conflict of interest, and don’t really want to dig into this issue. Taxpayer deserve better results.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Are you referring to Rep. Bauer, a VP with Ivy Tech?

      And as a devil’s advocate, are you sure it’s a conflict of interest? There are any number of lawmakers with any number of dayjobs whose bottom lines are directly impacted by their votes in Indianapolis. Do we label them all conflicts of interest?

      Would you make the same charge against Rep. Matt Pierce, who’s on the faculty of Indiana University’s Telecomm Department? Or any legislator who holds a job as any kind of public employee?

  • Becca Bindleshmook

    Ivy Tech has messed up for me big time. I started going to IVY Tech 4 Years ago Over the past Four years Advisers have put me in 16 classes i didn’t need because they Got my sheet mixed up with another similar degree program. I have taken 73 credit hours and have remained on the deans list for 3 out of 4 years. I have one class left to take and i was enrolled in it and then two days ago another student from that class informed me that he was dropped for no reason. Then i checked my Campus Connect Account and i found out that i too had been dropped. I emailed the instructor and my adviser; only one responded with a short message “I will be at a half day off-campus meeting on Monday, January 30. For immediate assistance, please contact Marian Burt.” Then i checked my billing statement and they revoked my FA for the semester. That means I cant Graduate and i have to start paying back the loan company because i am not in 6 credit hours. Now i am trying to find out who i need to talk to in Administration to get this fixed. I doubt they will make a point to resolve this issue time and time again they sit back and collect my money and do nothing to help the situation in which they created.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Becca,

      Do you think your story is typical of Ivy Tech? Have other students (other than the person you mention) had similar experience? Or is yours an unfortunate screw-up on Ivy Tech’s part? Could this be related to space issues Ivy Tech has had?

      Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you feel it’s worth our time for a follow-up:

      ~Kyle, StateImpact Indiana

  • Dana_62

    maybe IVYTech needs to offer High School Freshmen a very cheap summer class to focus them into what field they want to pursue and what college is really like. That way they can start to prepare their class choices into where they want to go. I know my High School was nly interested in helping the jocks get ready for college scholorships

  • Dana_62

    The High Schools have a hand in this as well, the only students they care about are the athletic students (any cuts in their dept….anyone?). I never had any meetings with councellors, nor do I remember any classes dealing with what to expect in college. As for IVYTech, I remember the head of the department signing me up for classes I didn’t need and telling me “We’ll leave your major undeclared for now.” Putting me in classes for 3 semesters that I didn’t need and wouldn’t transfer. And what did this man say when I told him? He snickered…Some classes transferred, but not much. And now I don’t have enough money to finish. Can I sue him and have him pay for the rest of my classes?

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