Community colleges are not the same kind of animal as four-year colleges and universities, a fact discussed in a new Pope Center commentary from Kelly Markson.

I am a community college failure. Or perhaps I should say, I helped fail one community college.

Decades ago, after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in a few community college math and statistics classes to prepare for graduate school. Had I not taken those classes, I doubt that I would have finished my graduate degree.

I did not earn from that community college a degree and never intended to. But according to the current thinking, that college failed me. Something is wrong here.

The mainstream media’s mantra about community colleges is that their performance should be evaluated based on degree completion statistics, just as it is for traditional four-year colleges and universities. Here are a couple of examples:

  • “…community colleges face questions about low retention rates (only one-in-five full-time students complete their two-year degree within three years of entering, according to the National Center for Education Statistics)” Wall Street Journal, “Should Community Colleges Be Tuition-Free?” September 15, 2015.
  • “Nationally, about 60 percent of students entering community colleges need remedial courses, and only about 15 percent of them earn an associate’s degree or certificate within three years.” New York Times, “Community Colleges That Work,” Feb. 27, 2015

Only 15 percent of students entering earn degrees! That sounds horrible.

But what about the students like me who never intended to earn a degree? The cited statistics on completion are not very meaningful if they fail to consider the intentions of the institution’s students.