Community colleges play a critical role in enhancing the accessibility of tertiary education for students across the United States. By offering open admissions, the majority of these institutions make affordable education attainable for nearly all adult learners with high school diplomas or GEDs — regardless of GPA, demographic, or disability.
Today, these community college facts show the power of these inclusive institutions:
- 4.7 million students are enrolled in public, two-year community colleges.
- 4.1 million more receive valuable training in non-credit community college programs.
- 40% of all undergraduates are public, two-year college students.
However, the very fact that these two-year students come from a wide variety of demographics and circumstances means that their education experience can be affected by a number of unique challenges. Below, we present 10 facts about community college students to increase awareness of this group.
10 Community College Facts About Two-Year Students
Community colleges are attractive alternatives to four-year universities for students who want to pursue technical careers or eliminate the barriers of distance, cost, or eligibility. Also known as junior colleges, technical colleges, two-year colleges, and city colleges, these institutions allow learners of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to explore diverse career paths.
Once enrolled, students can pursue vocational or technical certificates that allow for immediate entry into the workforce after completion. Or, they can go on to earn a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. Here are 10 community college facts that demonstrate the types of students who are attracted by this flexibility and how colleges can support their needs.
1. The average age of a community college student is 28. (Source: AACC)
Compare this to four-year universities, where the vast majority of the undergraduate population is between the ages of 18 and 24. Many community college students are non-traditional learners who don’t start their tertiary education immediately after high school. They may need additional instruction to become fully up-to-date with current educational materials or technologies.
2. 20% of community college students have a disability. (Source: AACC)
This number refers to the students who have registered with the office of disabilities. The actual number may be much higher, and indicates a need to ensure an accessible learning environment for all students. While open admission already helps these students access quality tertiary education, tools like text to speech in college can provide more equitable learning opportunities.
3. 15% of community college students take out federal loans. (Source: Statista)
Community college is typically less expensive than a four-year university, allowing many students to graduate with significantly less debt. In comparison, 55% of bachelor’s degree recipients took out student loans.
However, it’s important to recognize that the majority of community college students are still in need of some sort of financial assistance (like federal grants and state aid) to complete their education.
4. 42% of student parents are enrolled in community college. (Source: IWPR)
Additionally, 21% of women in community colleges are single mothers. Being a parent comes with its own special set of challenges, and balancing the demands of parenthood and school is extremely challenging. Many single parents do not complete any sort of certification at community college.
5. 21% of full-time community college students who work do so more than 40 hours per week. (Source: CCCSE)
Additionally, 35% of part-time students who work do so on a full-time basis.
Adding any amount of coursework to already busy work weeks can make students extremely busy. This demanding workload presents challenging obstacles to the completion of a certificate or associate’s degree. In fact, two-thirds of full-time students who are pursuing a degree for the first time don’t finish their degree within three years.
6. Less than 20% of community college students earn a certificate or associate’s degree after six years. (Source: Forbes)
Compare this to less than 60% of four-year college students. Community college students are much less likely to graduate on time than their peers at universities. This community college fact illustrates just how strenuous the tertiary education experience is for many two-year students, who face different life circumstances than traditional university students.
7. Up to 65% of community college students have to take at least one remedial class within six years after they enroll. (Source: Brookings)
Remedial classes are mainly focused on reading, writing, and mathematics. These remedial classes do not provide the student with any credit towards their certificate upon completion, and may be required before the student can even begin taking courses for credit towards a certificate. This adds yet another hurdle for college students to jump over.
8. Only 10% of community college students who are required to take remedial courses finish their degree within six years. (Source: Forbes)
This college completion rate is very low. Making sure students complete (and learn from) remedial classes — and do not drop out during the first year — is a crucial step that community colleges need to take.
9. Only 33% of community college students transfer to a four-year college within six years. (Source: Today)
Two-year students are unlikely to continue pursuing higher education after receiving their degree or certificate. While there may be diverse factors involved here, this fact about community college students shows that opening up opportunities for students locally doesn’t always lead to more opportunities at four-year universities.
10. 81% of first-time incoming community college students indicate wanting to transfer to a four-year university after the completion of an associate’s degree. (Source: CCRC)
The silver lining is that community college students are inspired to pursue bachelor’s degrees when they first enroll. Two-year colleges must make an effort to nurture their students’ aspirations and connect them to more resources to make their transfers possible.
Meeting the Needs of Community College Students With Text To Speech
As evidenced by these community college facts, two-year students are a huge demographic that faces different challenges than students entering four-year universities directly after high school. These students may include people who did poorly in high school, first-generation students, and many other non-conventional learners.
A lack of motivation isn’t the problem, as the final statistic would seem to indicate. What’s more likely is that most community college courses struggle with providing instructional content in a way that matches these unique students’ learning styles, needs, and preferences. This, in turn, negatively impacts retention and, ultimately, engagement.
To ensure these students have equal opportunities to learn, and to raise the chances of course completion, community colleges must make course material accessible and engaging. Edtech tools such as text-to-speech (TTS) technology provide support that is neither resource- nor budget-intensive. Even more importantly, there’s a growing body of evidence showing that TTS in particular increases reading comprehension, retention, and engagement not only for students with disabilities but for all students.
Text to speech is so effective because it allows students to listen while simultaneously reading. This type of bimodal content presentation frees listeners to focus on the meaning of the content rather than just the act of reading itself. When TTS is coupled with other digital study aids—focus and annotation tools, translation support, dictation and other reading and writing tools—comprehension and motivation increase. Confidence builds with each successfully completed assignment, setting the stage for a more productive and satisfying learning experience overall.
With the right tools to complete their courses, diverse students can better succeed throughout their two-year community college programs. And even after they graduate, students can continue to use TTS to excel in their careers and professional learning.
Learn more about how you can use ReadSpeaker’s accessibility software for higher education.