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Study: Community college dropout rate costly

Updated Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 | 11:59 a.m.

Dropping out of school carries a high cost – and it’s not just to the student.

A new report analyzing spending on community college dropouts nationally found that failing to graduate cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion at the federal, state and local levels over a five-year period.

In Nevada, the cost of funding community college students who dropped out after one year was estimated at $8.8 million between 2004 and 2009, according to the report released Thursday by the American Institutes for Research — a Washington, D.C. — based nonprofit, nonpartisan research group.

Typically, two-year community colleges admit a wide range of student: part-time, full-time and casual students looking to take a course on a particular subject, said Mark Schneider, who co-wrote the report with researcher Lu Michelle Yin. As a result, community colleges usually have lower graduation and retention rates than their four-year college counterparts.

Only 35 percent of the 800,000 first-year, full-time students nationally will graduate in three years, Schneider said. However, that graduation rate drops to just 7 percent when it comes to part-time students — which comprise the majority of the six million community college students in the United States, he said.

“It’s a very, very low graduation rate,” Schneider said. “We’re losing way too many students in the first year.”

There are a number of reasons why community college students drop out, according to the report. Although community colleges may cost less than four-year public and private colleges, they are still a costly investment — even with federal and state grants.

In addition, some community college students are simply not prepared for the rigors of higher education, Schneider said.

A recent report by nonprofit Complete College America found that 42 percent of freshmen at Nevada’s community colleges require remedial courses. Of those students, less than 10 percent will complete remediation and graduate within three years.

Once a student drops out of community college, very rarely do they return to complete their degree, Schneider said. Just 1 percent of community college dropouts come back to finish school, he said.

The report is “sobering,” because of how important community colleges have become in the higher education landscape, Schneider said.

Attracted by low tuition rates and open access, millions of students have flocked to community colleges in recent years, he said. Enrollment at community colleges has risen by about 25 percent in the past decade, according to the report.

Further, community colleges play a vital role in President Barack Obama’s education plan, which called for billions of dollars of additional funding to the two-year institutions as a way to boost the number of college graduates in the United States.

“We need as a nation a more highly skilled and educated workforce to compete in the world today,” Schneider said. “Paying attention to community colleges is really important.”

The dropout crisis extends to four-year colleges as well. In August, the American Institutes for Research released a report that showed college dropouts in the Silver State miss out on an estimated $11.7 million in “lost income” each year.

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