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Cost and Policies Hurt Community College Completion

Community college has traditionally been the most affordable option for first-generation, low-income, underserved students. But with the cost of tuition going up faster than the rate of inflation, median family income declining, and wavering support from states, completion may be increasingly out of reach for many.

That's the conclusion of a new report, "Affordability and Transfer: Critical to Increasing Baccalaureate Degree Completions," released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The report includes a state-by-state comparison of undergraduate enrollment at four- and two-year institutions, including a breakdown by minority groups.

Forty-four percent of low-income students (those with family income of less than $25,000 a year) attend community colleges as their first college after high school. Among low-income students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, half begin at community colleges—more than double the rate of their peers from high-income families.

With the cost of school rising, students are responding by working more hours and taking fewer classes—hurting their chances of completing a degree.

The report urges states to step in with more support for community colleges to ease the burden on students.

Specifically, it says every state should:

-Stabilize rates of tuition increases and provide more need-based financial aid;

-Ensure tuition and student financial-aid policies don't discourage full-time attendance in college;

-Make financial aid available for transfer students so they can attend full time or
part time.

The report highlights several states, including Florida, Washington, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, that have made progress in breaking down institutional barriers that have hurt students trying to transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution. California is creating a transfer degree program that guarantees entry to students transferring as juniors to the state university system.

Changes are needed, the report maintains, to increase state funding and improve transfer policies to keep up with the demand for community colleges and meet the nation's goal of becoming a world leader in the percentage of college graduates by the end of the decade.

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