Skip Navigation

2008 Spotlight

Community Colleges

Executive Summary

The Condition of Education summarizes important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report, which is required by law, is an indicator report intended for a general audience of readers who are interested in education. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available. For the 2008 edition, a special analysis was prepared to take a closer look at community colleges.

Drawing upon a wide range of data sources collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the 2008 special analysis provides a descriptive profile of community colleges in the United States, examines the characteristics of community college students who entered directly from high school, and looks at rates of postsecondary persistence and attainment among community college students in general. It also compares the characteristics of these institutions and of the students who enroll in them with those of public and private 4-year colleges and universities. Selected findings include:

  • In 2006–07, there were 1,045 community colleges in the United States, enrolling 6.2 million students (or 35 percent of all postsecondary students enrolled that year).

  • Average annual community college tuition and fees are less than half those at public 4-year colleges and universities and one-tenth those at private 4-year colleges and universities.

  • Community colleges enroll a diverse group of students, with various reasons for going to college, and have larger percentages of nontraditional, low-income, and minority students than 4-year colleges and universities.

  • High school seniors who enrolled immediately in community colleges in 2004 spanned a broad range of academic achievement—including students who were well-prepared for college in terms of their performance on standardized tests and coursework completed. They included a greater percentage of well-prepared seniors than did the 1992 senior cohort.

  • About two-thirds of 2004 seniors who enrolled immediately in a community college seem to have done so with the intention of pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher: as high school seniors, 28 percent had planned to use a community college as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree and 39 percent revised their original plans to attend a 4-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree by starting their postsecondary education at a community college.

  • One-third of 2004 seniors who enrolled immediately in a community college did so with no intention of pursuing any education higher than an associate’s degree; however, by 2006, almost 47 percent of this group had raised their educational expectations to start or complete a bachelor’s degree.

  • The percentage of students who had left school by 2006 without completing a degree or certificate program was higher among 2003–04 community college freshmen who intended to transfer to a 4-year college than among all 2003–04 freshmen at public 4-year and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions.

Continue to the next section