Community Colleges

Community College Perceptions: Behind the Statistics

Part 1—Financial Aid: Crucial to Community College Student Success Nationwide

Financial AidBy Amy Glynn, VP of Financial Aid and Community Initiatives

April is National Community College Awareness Month—a time set aside to showcase contributions that the nation’s community, technical, and public and private junior colleges make in furthering access to higher education. More than 1,100 community colleges serve in excess of 12 million students—and they’re facing change at unprecedented levels.

Driving the ABCs of student finance—improving accessibility, reducing student borrowing, and driving completion—at a community college requires innovation, challenging the status quo, and keeping the ever-changing needs of students front-and-center. In this series, I’m thrilled to welcome thought leaders from City College of San Francisco and Houston Community College to the #IMakeFinAidAwesome blog. They’re sharing their unique insights on everything from the shifting demographics of community college students—and how to meet their expectations—to how to communicate effectively with them.

Community Colleges: The Statistics Behind Today’s Reality

Community colleges are often in the news, seen as everything from, “a partial solution to the student debt crisis,” to problematic in terms of low degree completion rates. To understand the reality behind the problems, consider the world in which these students live:

  • 88% of community college students are non-traditional
  • 36% are first-generation college students
  • 62% attend part time
  • 41% of part-time students work full time, 32% work part time
  • 30% have children; 53% of all student-parents leave school with no degree
  • 58% receive financial aid; 38% receive federal grants, 19% receive federal loans
  • $4,700: The average amount of financial aid received by community college students
  • The average community college student is 28 years old and female—but getting younger

Community College Students and Financial Aid

Community college students are less likely to borrow—and they borrow less, on average. But they’re more likely to default on federal loans than students at other institutions. For those who persist, nearly one-in-five community college students are “so worried about finances that they’ve considered dropping out.” And it’s no wonder: Think about the fact that the cost of a textbook has increased more than 70% since 2006—more than four times the rate of inflation. One-in-three community college students have a family income lower than $20,000—and one-fifth say they wouldn’t be able to financially deal with an emergency. Thirty percent of community college students are food insecure, too. Meanwhile, the cost of community college has doubled since 1980.

How Your Peers Are Managing the Shift

When you look at all of these statistics, the idea of managing to all of these variables—and to the changing environment—can feel overwhelming. The demands that are being placed on our open-access colleges, and how these institutions respond, can make or break them within their communities. That’s why we reached out to some of the true innovators in student financial services to see how they are addressing the shifting needs of their students.

In our next installment of this blog series, JoEllen Soucier, Executive Director of Financial Aid, talks about how the Houston Community College FinAid team takes student success personally. 

Read Part 2 >