Community College Retention Rates Don’t Tell Whole Story

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The Midwest accounts for 21.5% of the nation's two-year college enrollment, but only about half of the students who go to community colleges in Illinois and Iowa continue on to their second year.

The latest data is from 2010 and comes from the "Annual State Reports 2011-2012" released in January 2013 by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.

To see Illinois' information, click here and go to page 28.

To see Iowa's information, click here and go to page 28.

In Iowa, the report shows only 50% of students at public two-year institutions went on to their second year. Officials with Eastern Iowa Community Colleges say their retention rate has been in the mid-40s, but some improvements over the last couple years have pushed that rate up to the low 50s.

"In the last two years, we've overhauled all of our student intake processes with the goal to improve student completion," says Dr. Don Doucette, Chancellor of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. "We've overhauled a range of student support services and some of the ways that we deliver instruction in the classroom."

"We've built in industry-based, third-party certificates into all of our programs, so we've overhauled our engineering technology program, some of our advanced manufacturing programs, and our welding programs."

Dr. Doucette says they're starting to see their retention rate go up, but there's only so much they can do.

"We had a lot of people enrolled in our college during the recession that are no longer enrolled in our college and didn't earn a degree, but they got a job."

And even if they decide to leave, Dr. Doucette says that doesn't necessarily mean they leave for good.

"Maybe they get a job. Maybe life interferes. Then, they come back and we try to make sure that they always have that opportunity."

Beyond the numbers, Dr. Doucette says a student's reason to learn - or return - is what matters in the end.

"We change people's lives when they earn certificates and degrees a lot more than when they just earn a few credits."

In Illinois, the reports shows 54% of students go onto their second year. At Black Hawk College, officials say their retention rate from Fall 2012 to Fall 2013 was 48%.