March 26, 2013
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

This paper is a Policy Analysis Exercise by students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. This research was supported, in part, by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School.

Executive Summary:

Background – Community colleges are responsible for educating nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates, and are vital for providing affordable post-secondary education, labor force retraining, and skills enhancement.

Problem – Despite enrollment rates of community college students being at an all-time high, over the last 30 years graduation rates are only 20%, compared to 50% for 4-year college students.2 By 2018, there will be a need an estimated 22 million new college graduates, with six in 10 jobs requiring a postsecondary degree. With completion rates where they are now, however, there will be a shortfall of 3 million college graduates.

Key Drivers – Reduced financial stability is the primary reason for failure to graduate from community college. The main drivers of reduced financial stability are gaps in educational funding, shifts in financial aid, concurrent employment, low socioeconomic status and limited family support, and various demographic factors.

Current State – Most community colleges are intervening in a number of ways to help improve financial stability:

  • Use of financial education courses and curriculum
  • Emergency funding programs for students in high-financial need.
  • Expansion of student loan programs to include private and other sources of funding.

These, and other common approaches, do not directly address the key drivers of financial stability, or have not been shown to be effective in the long-term.

Recommendations – Based on the authors' research, they have found 27 interventions holding strong promise to directly address the key drivers of reduced financial stability. Prioritizing these interventions by a number of impact and feasibility measures, the authors recommend 10 high-priority initiatives, across three functional categories.

Related Documents