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New Figures Suggest Community College Grad Rates Higher Than Thought

Community college administrators have long complained that their very, very low graduation rates unfairly fail to take into account students who transfer and continue on to earn degrees somewhere else.

Now there are new figures backing them up.

Of the estimated one in four students who start at community colleges and then move on to four-year institutions, more than 60 percent ultimately graduate, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. And another 8 percent who haven’t finished haven’t dropped out, the study says; they’re still enrolled.

The revelation suggests that the proportion of community college students who successfully complete their educations is higher than the dismal 18 percent the U.S. Department of Education calculates finish their two-year degrees within three years.

The American Association of Community Colleges contends that, if the government counted students who complete at least 30 credits at a community college and then finish their degrees at four-year schools, the proportion that should be considered to ultimately graduate would be closer to 40 percent.

As higher education becomes increasingly mobile, nearly a third of all students transfer at least once in five years and 17 percent at least twice, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Community college administrators argue that this makes conventional graduation-rate estimates obsolete.

There are several caveats. Most community college students who transfer do so without having first completed an associate’s degree, the report said, and they are slightly less likely to get a bachelor’s degree than students who graduate from the community college first—56 percent versus 72 percent, respectively.

Also, those who took at least one year off between a community college and a four-year university were 26 percentage points less likely to get bachelor’s degrees.

The National Clearinghouse figures are for students who transferred from community colleges in the 2005-2006 school year and earned bachelor’s degrees within six years.

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