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How States Make Use (or Not) of Community Colleges

May 15, 2008

The various roles of community colleges in state higher education systems -- educating students who will transfer to four-year institutions, providing job training and so forth -- may seem similar from state to state. But a study being released today by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government -- a research arm of the State University of New York -- highlights vast differences in the way states make use of and support their community colleges.

The report looks at a series of measures of how community college education fits in. States vary by as much as five to one in the portion of their population attending community colleges, and the share of states' college enrollment cohort enrolled at two-year institutions was found to be four times greater in some states than others. Significant gaps were also found in tuition rates, as compared to median income in states.

The differences examined can have major effects on political support for community colleges. For instance, in California, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico, more than 4 percent of the adult population is currently enrolled in a community college either full- or part-time. But in another 18 states, that percentage is less than 2 percent.

Nationally, the study found that 44 states experienced growth in full-time equivalent enrollments from 2000-5, while 4 states experienced declines and two states did not have information available. Twelve states experienced growth greater than 20 percent during that period: West Virginia (66.7 percent), Maine (40.5 percent), Montana (37.4 percent), Kentucky (36.7 percent), Arkansas (30.2 percent), Georgia (28.6 percent), New Hampshire (25.9 percent), Vermont (25.9 percent), Pennsylvania (22.5 percent), New Jersey (20.7 percent), Connecticut (20.7 percent) and Utah (20.0 percent).

David F. Shaffer, a senior fellow at Rockefeller and author of the report, said that the analysis isn't supposed to suggest a magic line for the categories that states should be above or below. Rather, he said, "what I'm trying to do is alert people to the differences," to suggest that state officials may want to reconsider their policies based on the wide range of approaches in use.

The following table shows two of the variables studied. The states are ranked in order of their percentage of FTE in all public and private higher education that is enrolled at community colleges. The "tuition burden" figure represents the tuition for full-time enrollment as a share of median family income in the state. Figures were not available for Alaska. The data represent students enrolled for credit -- which for many community college excludes a significant portion of enrollments.

Community College Share of State Enrollments and 'Tuition Burden,' 2005

Rank in Share State 2-Year Share of Enrollment Tuition Burden
1 Wyoming 47.3% 2.7%
2 California 46.4% 1.1%
3 Washington 46.1% 3.4%
4 Mississippi 41.9% 3.0%
5 New Mexico 39.9% 2.3%
6 New Jersey 35.4% 2.9%
7 Texas 35.3% 2.2%
8 Illinois 33.2% 2.8%
9 North Carolina 32.6% 2.3%
10 Oregon 32.0% 4.3%
11 Kansas 31.3% 3.2%
12 Maryland 31.0% 3.3%
13 Iowa 30.6% 4.6%
14 South Carolina 30.3% 4.7%
15 Georgia 27.8% 2.5%
16 Arkansas 27.6% 3.4%
17 Kentucky 27.4% 4.7%
18 Alabama 26.8% 5.0%
19 Michigan 26.8% 2.8%
20 Hawaii 26.8% 1.5%
21 Minnesota 26.4% 5.2%
22 Nebraska 26.2% 3.0%
23 Virginia 25.7% 2.7%
24 Florida 25.4% 2.9%
25 Wisconsin 25.3% 4.1%
26 Oklahoma 25.1% 3.4%
27 Arizona 24.1% 2.1%
28 Ohio 22.0% 4.8%
29 Tennessee 21.3% 4.0%
30 New York 20.6% 4.5%
31 Delaware 20.5% 2.9%
32 Connecticut 19.7% 2.7%
33 Missouri 19.6% 3.4%
34 Colorado 19.6% 2.8%
35 North Dakota 16.2% 4.9%
36 Maine 16.1% 4.4%
37 Montana 15.5% 5.0%
38 Massachusetts 14.5% 3.3%
39 West Virginia 14.3% 6.0%
40 Louisiana 14.0% 2.8%
41 Rhode Island 13.7% 3.3%
42 Utah 13.5% 3.6%
43 Pennsylvania 13.3% 4.1%
44 New Hampshire 13.2% 6.5%
45 Idaho 12.6% 3.2%
46 South Dakota 12.5% 4.8%
47 Indiana 11.9% 4.1%
48 Nevada 10.7% 2.8%
49 Vermont 7.6% 5.8%

 

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