Jim Rosenbaum Reports on Challenge of Completing Community College

Jim Rosenbaum Reports on Challenge of Completing Community College

James Rosenbaum

‘Forgotten half’ of community college students need help earning credential

While access to college has expanded recently, a new challenge remains for community colleges. Professor James Rosenbaum and his colleagues find that many young people who enroll in community college fail to complete their studies and attain a degree.

In fact, 46 percent of community college students do not attain a credential within eight years. These young people with “some college” but no credentials do no better in the job market than those with only a high school diploma. They are the “forgotten half” who require attention, according to the researchers.

In a new report for the William T. Grant Foundation, “The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them,” the authors investigate why students drop out of community college, consider current challenges for community colleges and describe needed research for helping young people complete their education.

“When nearly half of community college entrants fail to get a credential, our education system is also failing,” Rosenbaum and his fellow authors assert. Rosenbaum led the study with Kaitlin Ahearn and Kelly Becker of Northwestern and Janet Rosenbaum of State University of New York.

Using data from the nationally representative Educational Longitudinal Survey, their report shows that college access and community college attendance are becoming more widespread. Now 86 percent of on-time high school graduates attend college within eight years, and 37 percent of college students attend community college.

The news is good for community college completers. Credentials even short of a degree provide a boost in the labor market. Professional certificate graduates earn 13 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma. Meanwhile, those with an associate’s degree earn 22 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma.

The researchers point to several areas where research is needed to guide effective new policies for helping young people reach their potential. For example, research should investigate the obstacles preventing young people from enrolling in college. Only 33 percent of community college students attain a certificate or associate’s degree within eight years.

Better counseling and guidance would benefit community college students, according to Rosenbaum. “A better understanding of the challenges that students encounter in college can better equip high school and college counselors to advise students,” he says. Research can inform the training of counselors on how to support disadvantaged and struggling students. Also needed is better understanding of how to help high school students prepare for college and determine how to pay for it.

For community colleges, research can help to shape reforms and improve outcomes for students. These are the most important areas for research, according to Rosenbaum:

  • alignment between high schools and colleges
  • structured college procedures
  • links with the workplace

Rosenbaum, a professor of human development and social policy at SESP, has been studying community colleges for many years — including the ways they reduce barriers to college and reforms that can create further improvements. He has also been studying ways high schools can improve college access and college completion for disadvantaged students. A specialist in research on work, education and housing opportunities, Rosenbaum has published five books and numerous articles on these subjects.

Read "The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them"

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 2/3/16