Community colleges are an important avenue for people to meet the need for postsecondary credentials. These public institutions offer two-year degrees, vocational and technical certificates, and a pathway to transfer to a four-year institution. Because community colleges have mostly open-access admissions policies, serve a large proportion of all postsecondary students, and charge low tuition, they have the potential to be engines of economic mobility. But as important as community colleges are, many students who attend these institutions are not achieving the educational outcomes necessary for mobility out of poverty.
To improve academic and economic outcomes for community college students, we recommend comprehensive community college reform. This reform needs to address all four of the following areas. First, community colleges should align program offerings with labor market demand, using input from employers and labor market information. Second, they should make basic skills education more targeted and accelerated, allowing students to improve without derailing progress toward completion. Third, community colleges should make it easier for students to combine work, caregiving, and education, with strategies such as block scheduling and child care assistance. And fourth, they should help students structure their programs of study effectively through innovations in advising and simplification of offerings into program pathways, ideally beginning with the end goal, a career, in mind.