Community colleges are good at helping students who have a clear sense of direction. But the sprawling, underfunded campuses often offer little guidance for those who don't know what they want to study, or what to expect from college. Improving on-campus advising could become an imperative for two-year schools if the Obama administration's proposed college-ranking system ends up rewarding institutions for graduating students on time.
Software developed by Washington research and consulting company Education Advisory Board has helped four-year schools like Georgia State University increase graduation and retention rates. As the EAB tries to develop a similar product for two-year schools, it finds itself up against a much bigger challenge.
"We actually think that the moment where education is imperative, and currently lacking, is at the very beginning of a student's life cycle at an institution — really the intake process," says Sarah Zauner, research director of EAB's community college forum. The proposed tool would encourage students to define their goals, and then alert them when they veer off track.
Only 20 percent of first-time students enrolled full time at public two-year colleges obtain an associate's degree in three years, according to federal statistics. That metric doesn't figure in the students who transfer to four-year colleges, those who earn certificates, or the 59 percent of students who attend part-time. But it's clear that many students who enroll in two-year colleges don't reach the finish line.