Has the Obama administration uplifted the identity and purpose of community colleges?

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James Kadamus, National education consultant for K-12 and higher education

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I agree that the Obama administration has been promoting attendance at community colleges as a way of increasing access for students, providing more affordable options for college, creating a gateway to 4 year programs and linking education preparation to emerging workforce needs. These are all important education goals for individuals and for the economic well-being of the country.

That said, the elephant in the room with community colleges is the completion rate. The Chronicle of Higher Education has published results by state - http://collegecompletion.chronicle.com/

The data is shocking and points to some of the real issues community colleges must face up to if they want to be successful. Many people attend community colleges, but the completion rates are very low, The Chronicle analysis looks at what percentage of student complete in 150% time - essentially do they graduate with a 2 year degree in three years. States with large community college enrollments like Arizona, Texas and Ohio all have completion rates below 15%. Florida (30%), California (26%), and New York (21%) do a little better, but certainly not at an level that anyone would find acceptable. Even the best state - South Dakota just barely breaks the 50% completion rate mark.

If students are not graduating or are taking 3 or 4 or 5 years to graduate (likely because they are going part-time and are underprepared for college level work on day 1), the modest costs of community college add up. Also there is a loss of productivity to the economy if it is taking community college students getting technical preparation longer to get into the workforce and become productive workers and taxpayers.

Unless the completion rate issue is addressed, the vision for community colleges will not be realized. Proposals to make community college free will increase access, but may even attract more students who have a casual interest and end up making completion rates worse.

The bottom line is that to make community college fulfill the role that the President and many others want, we need students to be better prepared for college level work as they enter and to provide them with the support and help to progress and successfully get the knowledge and skills to get a degree.

Jillian Youngblood, Director of Communications, Noodle

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I think the First Lady's State of the Union guest list this year suggests that the answer is yes! There is a lot of disagreement about whether the President's proposal will prompt more students to spend time at a community college en route to a four-year degree, but either way, I do think there is now broader recognition that community colleges do a lot of different things for a LOT of different students.

Tracy Jennings, Works at Noodle and here to help!

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Questions like yours are why this month's Noodle Debate Academy is so vibrant. We are asking our community to weigh in on whether the new community college initiative will improve access and outcomes.

I encourage you to add your thoughts! Make sure to read the opinion piece by Greg Johnson on our site as well. The article details his thoughts on whether free community college will be effective at addressing issues in higher education.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher, Author, and Artist

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Community colleges are becoming an increasingly relevant and important part of our education system in this country. For one thing, they are much more affordable to attend and therefore, for many people in the lower and middle classes, they are infinitely more accessible. They can serve as a gateway to a 4-year college for those who may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the whole university application process in general, and they can also be a very convenient alternative to students who may need to work while they get a degree, and can't fully integrate themselves into campus life in their Freshmen and Sophomore years of college. In addition to this, they do offer a degree on their own (Associates') and give the students the opportunity to go on to a Bachelor's degree at any point with only 2 more years of schooling. Finally, many of these schools offer technical courses in things like computer programming, video game and graphic design, wood and auto shop, and even carpentry or other artistic endeavors that could lead students directly into professional certifications or full-time jobs after completing their degrees from Community Colleges. So these are a very important and effective part of our education system, and there's no question that Obama is right in promoting their importance and continued relevance in our society.

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