August 23, 2023
Community colleges have a long-standing—and seemingly intractable—struggle with student completion. Though measures vary, the rate at which students at two-year institutions earn an associate degree or certificate within three years is at about 36 percent, rising to 43 percent over six years. The reasons why are plentiful and complex, ranging from inadequate funding to institutional deficiencies. And while some have attempted to tackle the problems over the years, the progress has been slow—even by academe’s standards.
“I’m an old woman and I have tried to run at this problem my entire life,” said Gail Mellow, a president emeritus of the City University of New York’s LaGuardia Community College. “You see small things that moved us forward, but … we can’t wait any longer.”
Many have tried to crack this problem, both from within traditional community colleges and from would-be alternatives. Mellow’s colleagues at CUNY hatched one of the most promising efforts, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs initiative, which has produced results but proven hard to scale because of its high cost. Outsiders’ attempts to challenge the community college model have also struggled, including privately funded—and ultimately failed—partnerships in the 2010s to create a network of two-year honors programs and a national two-year online institution.