March 21, 2016
Improving student retention may be the secret to successfully helping community college students afford and attain a bachelor’s degree.
Improving Student Retention Is Secret to Community College Success

The Advocate of Affordable College believes that improving student retention may be the secret to successfully helping community college students afford and attain a bachelor’s degree.

Whether an administrator or faculty member, the main goal for everyone who works at a community college boils down to one thing: helping students achieve their desired outcome. Whatever combination of credentials they seek, an institution aims to help students make it happen.

Today’s community college students have a lot of obstacles to contend with. They’re not only attending school, but also juggling work, family, school and finances – all while trying to decide if their current institution is a good fit and financial value. When students don’t feel they are receiving a good value, they are more likely to leave and find a college that better meets their needs, further complicating the complex student journey.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2016 fact sheet,

  • 22% of full-time community college students are employed full time
  • 40% of full-time community college students are employed part time.
  • 41% of part-time community college students are employed full time.
  • 32% of part-time community college students are employed part time.

This student profile makes it more important for community colleges to prioritize student retention programming that focus on retaining students. Here are three of the top reasons why:

Changing Educational Landscape

Over the past decade, there has been an increase in tuition costs, new technology, a struggling job market and economy, online degree options, massive open online courses, funding model changes, flipped classrooms, an increased focus on learning analytics, and the more frequent admission of non-traditional learners. The bottom line? Today’s average community college student has vastly different needs and expectations than students of the past. This changing education landscape has created the need for a more effective approach to community college success and student retention strategies.

Government Funding Changes

Governments are increasingly holding community colleges accountable for producing completion results through performance-based funding models. Simply reporting on high enrollment rates is no longer a sufficient metric of success. Graduation rates are now a key priority in higher education. In fact, more than 75% of the states have adopted some level of performance-based funding. Some states, like Tennessee and Ohio, now have 100% of their funding determined by graduation rates.

Reduced Costs

Institutions that implement a strategy to improve their student retention rate actually save money in the long run by retaining community college students with the right efforts in place.

For example, the AACC 2016 fact sheet also says the organization represents more than 1,100 associate degree-granting institutions and more than 12 million students. So, the average community college has about 10,900 students. The AACC 2016 fact sheet also says that average annual tuition and fees (2015-2016) for community colleges (public, in district) is $3,430.

So, if the average community college can improve its retention rate by just one percent, then it could save an estimated $373,870. And if all 1,100 members of the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges could improve their retention rates by just one percent, then they would save more than $41 million. That savings could help pay for better student success programming, allowing student retention investment to come full circle.

Student retention is a complicated problem for community colleges all around the country. However, The Advocate of Affordable College believes that placing a stronger emphasis on student success can help an institution to improve graduation rates and more effectively meet the expectations of an ever changing student body.


(Greg Jarboe is the editor of The Advocate of Affordable College blog and the former editor of the Knowledge Transfer blog. He’s also the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, an instructor at the Rutgers Business School, the content marketing faculty chair at Market Motive, as well as the author of YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day.)