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Community College Completion Rates Dropping in Most States, Finds Survey

On the heels of President Obama's proposal to provide free community college tuition, a new report shows that while degree and certificate productivity has increased among community colleges in the past decade, there was a drop in completion last year in most states.

Of the 42 state directors of community colleges who responded to a survey by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, 22 reported flat to declining rates of degree completion between the academic years 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Looking back at results of the annual survey, there has been a 75 percent increase in associate degrees and a 122 percent increase in certificates awarded by community colleges  between 2000-01 and 2012-13.

The report, by lead author and center director Stephen Katsinas, explains the recent drop is linked to reductions in 2012 Pell Grant funding, improvements in the economy that lured some students away from campuses before finishing, and cuts in state appropriations for community college.

Leaders are growing more pessimistic about future funding. Last year's survey showed 14 state community college leaders predicted state appropriations would not cover inflation; this year 31 did so.

Three out of four respondents in the University of Alabama survey said their states had no long-term plans to fund operating or capital budget increases in three or the four states necessary to boost completion rates.

"The increases in state-level, long-term planning for the operating and capital budgets needed to expand the number of adults with degrees and first-certificates are so small as to make the achievement of the national objective of making America first in the world again in adult baccalaureate degree attainment a pipe dream," the report says.

Researchers conclude by calling for a new direction that will jump-start completion and recommending federal policymakers consider President Obama's proposal for free community college tuition, which could create incentives for states to maintain funding.

The University of Alabama is co-hosting a conference today at Mississippi State University today discuss the future of community colleges and the administration's America's College Promise initiative.

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