Success in Community College: Do Institutions Differ?

Community colleges are complex organizations and assessing their performance, though important, is difficult. Compared to four-year colleges and universities, community colleges serve a more diverse population and provide a wider variety of educational programs that include continuing education and technical training for adults, and diplomas, associates degrees, and transfer credits for recent high school graduates. Focusing solely on the latter programs of North Carolina’s community colleges, we measure the success of each college along two dimensions: attainment of an applied diploma, or degree; or completion of the coursework required to transfer to a four-year college or university. We address three questions. First, how much variation is there across the institutions in these measures of student success? Second, how do these measures of success differ across institutions after we adjust for the characteristics of the enrolled students? Third, how do our measures compare to the measures of success used by the North Carolina Community College System? We find that most of the system’s colleges cannot be statistically distinguished from one another along either dimension.

Apr 2012