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Four Years to Degree for California Community College Students

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July 10, 2014

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Four Years to Degree for California Community College Students

According to a new analysis of community college students in California, students who earned an associate degree in 2012-13 took a median of four years to do so; graduated with 78 credits, 18 more than associate degree programs typically require; and attempted to earn a whopping 90 credits.

The picture is not prettier when considering certificates. On average, students are earning more than 20 credits above and beyond requirements, and attempting 11 credits not earned. The result is that California students are taking a median of more than 3 years to finish certificate programs.

This issue is complex, with many interrelated factors that play a role in delaying student attainment:

  • Remedial courses
  • Course capacity and offerings that don't match student need
  • Students failing or withdrawing from courses
  • Work and family obligations
  • Financial need that exceeds aid offered
  • Lack of clear pathways

While taking longer to earn a degree than is traditional is not necessarily a problem for students, particularly working students, paying for more credits than are earned or required certainly is a problem. The report recommends:  

  • Clear pathways that move students quickly through pre-college-level courses
  • Supports that include counseling, course matching, priority enrollment for students with a defined pathway, and wraparound services
  • Increasing community college funding and expanding access to financial aid
  • Making time-to-degree information publicly available

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