Community college students face long odds of eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. And those odds get worse if they leave college more than once along the way, reports Inside Higher Ed
“That is the central finding of a new study that tracked the progress of 38,000 community college students in Texas. Toby J. Park, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at Florida State University, conducted the research. His working paper was presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in St. Louis.
“The group of students he studied first enrolled in 2000. Among them, fully 94 percent “stopped out” of college at least once, by experiencing a “period of non-enrollment.”
“Most of the students returned to their studies, according to the paper, which is titled “Stop-Out and Time for Work: An Analysis of Degree Trajectories for Community College Students.” More than 20,000, or 72 percent, of the cohort came back to some Texas college in the sample, which used data from the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the state’s comptroller.
“Even students who eventually earned a bachelor’s degree were likely to spend time away from college. Only 13 percent of the 6,200 four-year degree-holders in the sample did not stop out.
“However, the study found that 76 percent of those degree completers took only one break from college. After stopping out after a second time, the percentage of returning students completing a bachelor’s degree decreases substantially.
“If you leave twice,” Park said, “you’re not going to come back.”
“Park could only guess at the reasons why. But he said a second stop-out could be indicative of “systematic barriers” to a student ever earning a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to the initial problems of adjustment and “exploration” for a first-time community college student.
“The study found some variation among racial and ethnic groups. Interestingly, a second departure appears to be less of a problem for Hispanic students in the study, who nonetheless had relatively low graduation rates.”