Weak Education Pipeline Could Stunt Community College Potential and Students’ Economic Mobility

Community colleges can boost earnings for students, particularly those who pursue high-return fields such as computer science or engineering; however the greatest impediments to such success are failings among high schools to prepare students for postsecondary education, according to a recent study.

Findings in Strengthening Community Colleges’ Influence on Economic Mobility, a The Pew Charitable Trusts report, underscore the need to fortify connections between secondary and postsecondary institutions. Given the new national focus on community colleges, the projected growth in technical fields and the rising demand for college and career readiness, CTE appears poised to play an integral role in addressing the pipeline issue.

Positive outcomes such as student achievement in community colleges and the obtainment of higher wages after community college are more likely among students who earn higher GPAs in high school, said the report, which focused on Florida community colleges.

“The largest factor limiting the ability of community colleges to raise the earnings of their students through the transfer function is students’ poor academic preparation in high school and the difficulty of quickly boosting their performance through developmental programs,” the report said.

Lack of postsecondary readiness could have an ultimate impact on a students’ overall economic mobility. According to the report, students with higher high school GPAs complete more postsecondary courses that have higher financial returns. For instance, earnings significantly increase among students who concentrate in high-return fields such as health care, agriculture, business and computer science, which are largely CTE-focused areas.

Seven years after leaving college, Florida students’ average annual earning in high-return fields averaged about $54,000. That compares to the $42,000 average annual earnings among students in low-return fields such as communications, humanities and consumer services, the report said.

Students, particularly the notable amount of low-income individuals who earn degrees in community colleges, may by shortchanged of opportunities because of stubborn institutional silos and inadequacies of certain high school programs. This report underscores the strengths of community colleges as well as what needs to be done at all educational levels to maximize the potential for all students and the nation’s economy.

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