Data shows Nebraska community college students behind U.S. average for earning bachelor's degrees
By Kassidy Arena , Senior Reporter Nebraska Public Media News
Feb. 12, 2024, 5 a.m. ·
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Nebraska ranks in the bottom half of the nation in bachelor’s degree attainment among community college students. This is despite surveys showing nearly 80% of all community college students in the U.S. aspire to earn a higher degree.
According to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, it's 37th out of 50.
The new data shows an even larger disparity amongst Black, Hispanic, low-income and older students. According to the study’s authors, this is the first time such data on community college success has been disaggregated by these groupings.
"What we can see and observe is that overall, the state in these disaggregated metrics, is behind – at least below the national averages – and so that should definitely be a call to action, to urgent action, by the state officers and by the institutions as well,” said Tatiana Velasco with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Velasco said one way to improve the success of community college graduates in four-year universities is by expanding dual enrollment opportunities. The reports lists other recommendations including increasing focus on a timely bachelor's completion after associate's degree, promoting more transfers to four-year institutions and discouraging transfer to online institutions, which the researchers state have low rates of bachelor's attainment for transfers.
"This isn't only about improving transfer outcomes overall, this is [about] doing it effectively for all students, and especially for the students who need it the most," Velasco added.
The companion reports – one focused on community colleges and one focused on four-year institutions – found there were some states in contrast to Nebraska that saw more success.
“I think for Nebraska institutions to take a hard look at their practices, and what is it that they can do? What is it that they can learn from the exemplars that they can adapt to their own contexts to better serve their students?" said Tania LaViolet with the Aspen Insitute College Excellence Program.
LaViolet said Nebraska is one of the states that does not report publicly available community college transfer outcomes data either overall or disaggregated by race, ethnicity and/or income.
"It's very hard to improve your practices and your strategies and eliminate barriers for students when you don't know where the problems are," she added.
Velasco said she hopes this report will inspire states like Nebraska to gather more data.
The researchers are moving forward with future studies, with a release date of this fall, that focus on qualitative data. Specifically, answering the question of why and how some institutions fall behind and some achieve success in transferring community college students to four-year university graduates.
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