Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

WASHINGTON UPDATE; Report Dubs '90S 'Decade of the Community College'

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

WASHINGTON UPDATE; Report Dubs '90S 'Decade of the Community College'

Article excerpt

Dubbing the 1990s the "Decade of the Community College," a new report from the American Council on Education (ACE) says public two-year colleges saw a bigger enrollment boom during that decade than other higher education institutions did.

Enrollment at public two-year colleges jumped 14 percent between 1989 and 1999 -- 5 percentage points above all of higher education, which experienced a 9 percent increase during that same time period, according to the report, "Choice of Institution: Changing Student Attendance Patterns in the 1990s."

The report looks at distribution trends among college students. The growth in the two-year sector was especially notable among students who hadn't traditionally chosen that route to higher education.

"The big message is that the '90s was a big decade for the community colleges," said Dr. Jacqueline King, the author of the report and director of ACE's Center for Policy Analysis. "They increased their share of student enrollment among many categories of students, particularly amongst traditional-age students."

That trend, King said, will most likely continue -- and possibly accelerate.

For the first years of the 21st century, college costs have continued to soar and individuals have remained preoccupied by a questionable economy, prompting some experts to predict that the "community college decade" could yet be eclipsed.

Indeed those factors have contributed to a slow, steady decline in the average age of community college students. New high school graduates and their parents -- particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed, or those whose salaries are too low to pay high tuition bills, but too high to qualify for financial aid -- are increasingly seeking more affordable paths to a degree.

According to the report, nearly one-third of community college students in 1999 were considered "dependent," referring to those 24 or under who aren't married. The trend held even for middle-income families. The community colleges drew many of these students away from four-year institutions, where the proportion of dependent undergraduates dropped slightly, from 47 percent in 1989 to 45 percent in 1999. During that time, more of the so-called nontraditional students -- those older than 24 and often married and working -- enrolled in four-year institutions, accounting for 27 percent of their rolls.

Much of the enrollment increase at community colleges, however, appears to have stemmed from the significant drop in students at for-profit two-year schools. By the end of the decade those institutions had lost a third of their students, most likely due to the closure of 1,000 such schools, many that couldn't meet increasing accountability standards for federal student-aid programs. …

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