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Community colleges are bursting at the seams (but not with funding)

What concerns Bailey is that community colleges may increasingly try to overcome their budgetary challenges by becoming more selective in their admissions policies. "That goes against their mission in the first place," he says.

The value of that mission can be seen in terms of dollars and cents. Those who attend community colleges generally have 15 to 30 percent higher earnings than those who don't.

So the book's authors offer a number of broad recommendations for community colleges, including improving data management technology to monitor student progress, focusing on closing the racial and income achievement gaps, providing more direct counseling and advising, and reaching out to high schools in their communities to help teenagers prepare academically and socially for higher education.

Author Thomas Bailey: Fretting that community colleges 
are under too much budgetary pressure
photo: Mark Hartman
Author Thomas Bailey: Fretting that community colleges are under too much budgetary pressure

CUNY's community colleges do have some innovative programs that address the challenges set forth in Defending the Community College Equity Agenda. Borough of Manhattan Community College has an "Out in Two" scholarship program that pays half of a student's tuition as long as he or she takes enough credits to earn an associate's degree in two years. The school's Academic Advisement and Transfer Center office blocks registration for any students who don't come in for a mandatory counseling session each semester.

Kingsborough Community College has a Diploma Now program that offers GED preparation for potential high school dropouts and a New Start program for students who have been expelled from college for academic reasons.

And at LaGuardia, Ivana Estrada was given the chance to take computer science courses at Barnard, which led to her earning a bachelor's degree. But even with these opportunities, Bailey and his co-authors point to significant barriers—social, economic, and academic—that will continue to hinder community college student success. Estrada admits she was lucky. "I know I had an advantage," she says. "I was younger than most of the other LaGuardia students, and I didn't have any children."

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