Career colleges graduating high proportion of students in at-risk categories

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Feature Story

By Jenny Faubert

Many issues impact a student’s ability to persist and ultimately attain a postsecondary degree. Delayed enrollment (from high school to postsecondary education), not having a high school diploma, enrolling part-time rather than full-time, being financially independent, having dependent children, being a single parent, and working full-time while enrolled are a few. The Imagine America Foundation’s soon-to-be-released study on postsecondary graduation rates illustrates that career colleges have more success graduating “at-risk” students than do other institutions.

It is not surprising that the more risk characteristics a student has, the greater the chance that he or she will not complete college. As illustrated in Figure 1, career colleges typically have a higher percentage of “at-risk” students than do other sectors. In 2003, over half (52 percent) of students attending a four-year career college had at least three risk factors, compared to only 9 percent and 6 percent of students attending private, not-for-profit and public institutions, respectively. At all levels, over half of career college students have three or more risk factors.

Figure 1
Percentage of beginning postsecondary students with three or more risk factors, by institutional type/sector, 2003

SOURCE: EPI Analysis using the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Survey Data Analysis System (BPS:04/06) (DAS), U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

As with all risk factors of which first-generation and low-income status are considered, it is often the combination of factors that produces more challenges to educational and career success. As illustrated in Figure 2, career college students are much more likely to have both low income and first generation status. In the four-year sector, 44 percent of career college students carry both statuses, compared to only 12 percent of public and 11 percent of private, not-for-profit four-year students. At the two-year level, 50 percent of career college students were both low-income and first-generation, slightly more than the 45 percent of students attending private institutions and double that of those attending public, two-year institutions (26 percent). Finally, at the less-than-two-year level, 60 percent of career college studentss were both low income and first generation, compared to 57 percent of students at private institutions and 47 percent of students at public institutions.

Figure 2.
First-generation and low-income status for beginning postsecondary students, by institutional type/sector, 2003

    Low income & first gen Low income
ONLY
First gen
ONLY
Not low
income &
not first gen
  Total 25 6 38 32
4-Year Public
Private, not-for-profit
Career Colleges
12
11
44
5
6
9
33
28
35
50
55
12
2-Year Public
Private, not-for-profit
Career Colleges
26
45
50
6
8
8
46
31
33
23
16
9
<2-Year Public
Private, not-for-profit
Career Colleges
47
57
60
5
15
8
39
15
26
9
13
6

SOURCE: EPI Analysis using the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Survey Data Analysis System (2003-04) (DAS), U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Given that career college students have more risk factors, one might expect them not to fare as well as students at other institutions. But overall, as Figure 3 illustrates, career colleges do a good job graduating students, many of who are considered “at-risk.” In fact, at the two-year level, career colleges have the highest graduation rate – 59 percent – compared to only 23 percent of students attending two-year public institutions. Private, not-for-profit two-year institutions graduated 55 percent of their students.

Figure 3.
Graduate rates of students attending institutions (150 percent of normal time), by institution type and sector, 2006

SOURCE: EPI Analysis using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Data Analysis System (DAS), 2006, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

When it comes to graduation rates and ethnicity, career colleges that are predominantly minority-serving have a much higher graduation rate than public and private institutions that also serve predominantly minority students (47 percent versus 33 and 40 percent, respectively) at the four-year level. Want to find out more about graduation rates in relation to ethnicity, income and college selectivity? Then be the first to purchase the Foundation’s newest research publication! This important publication is available for purchase for $29.95 and can be ordered by contacting Jenny Faubert at JennyF@imagine-america.org.