High Drop Out Rate A Problem For Many Community Colleges

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Arizona’s community colleges are dropout factories, with an average three-year completion rate just above 18 percent, according to a report from the Goldwater Institute released this month.

Matthew Ladner, the report’s author, says the state should cut its investment in higher education as it chops spending.

“The ax is coming,” said Ladner. “It is far better to cut things like higher education than other really core government services,” such as cops and courts, prisons and roads.

In the report, Ladner compiled a list of Arizona’s community colleges and their three-year graduation rates, from 10 percent at Dine College, to 45 percent at Rio Salado, but didn’t include GCC on the list. Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, tied with Glendale for fourth highest on the list, with a three-year completion rate of 22 percent.

The information used came from a federal database that didn’t include GCC, said Ladner.

At a briefing given to the county supervisors Tuesday, GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said that GCC has “one of the lowest dropout rates in the state,” but did not offer specifics.

The Roundup has had to file a public records request with GCC to access the exact data, but the college didn’t respond by press time.

GCC board member Tom Loeffler said Ladner didn’t consider that community colleges provide enrichment classes for adults, along with vocational classes for students. Graduating students in three years — “that is not the only purpose of a community college. That’s only one of the goals,” said Loeffler.

In compiling the report, Ladner considered the graduation rates for full-time students. He admits the data isn’t perfect, but says the data shows a significant problem nonetheless.

“It’s clear what we are doing now isn’t working out terribly well,” said Ladner. Ladner says that community college students should pay a higher tuition to create more buy-in, and also because the degree benefits the recipient, not his next-door neighbor.

“Should we be forcibly taxing plumbers to make them hand over their money to benefit students?” wondered Ladner.

“In a flush time, that’s an academic debate.” However, when the state spends billions more than it receives, Ladner says it cannot continue funding community colleges at current levels.

“Students might take their education a little more seriously if they were taking more of the freight,” Ladner said about his ideas for increased tuition.

Also, Ladner says community colleges should admit students more selectively to avoid taxpayers subsidizing dropouts.

The problem, according to Ladner, starts with a K-12 system that fails to adequately prepare students to succeed in college.

“A high school diploma should mean something,” he said. “The same should be true when graduating from college or community college.”

Allowing students into college simply because they want to attend isn’t in their best interest, said Ladner. Instead, K-12 schools should prepare students to succeed. “To me, that’s the kindest thing you can do,” said Ladner. “Not just let them into college because everyone should be able to go to college.”

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