Panel Discussion Explores Future of Community Colleges

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How has the community college sector evolved in recent years? What are the challenges such institutions will face in the future? These were just some of the questions addressed during a recent Urban Institute panel discussion — “Community Colleges since the Great Recession.”

The panel, comprised of Urban Institute researchers as well as various community college stakeholders, discussed a number of issues including college financing and Pell grants, indicators for measuring institutional success, and efforts to increase ties between colleges and employers.

The panelists also highlighted strategies to improve student completion rates at two-year colleges. Completion is a longstanding challenge for many community college students. In fact, data from the National Student Clearinghouse indicates that only 38 percent of students who initially enroll in a two-year public institution ultimately complete a degree or certificate.  Thus, in recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on implementing initiatives that support community college students during their undergraduate studies.

Panelist Daniel Phelan, president and CEO of Jackson College, shared one such program his institution has successfully adopted. Called the Student Success Navigator, the initiative pairs each student with a hands-on advisor. Navigators do just more than course scheduling — they are required to contact students throughout each semester and assist them with everything from financial aid to career planning. Since instituting the program, student persistence rates at the college have increased.

Other panelists shared the importance of local and state policymakers developing programs that take into account characteristics unique to particular institutions. Because there is great variation within the community college sector, a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate.

Watch a video of the discussion and learn more about the panelists.

Tara Nicola is a NACAC research associate. She can be reached at tnicola@nacacnet.org.

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