Research Digest

Watch Community Colleges to Measure Tax Reform’s Impact on the Economy

Realizing the American Dream takes hard work – and education.  By 2020 65% of jobs will require education beyond high school.[1] Tax reform will hit higher education hard.[2] History shows cuts in higher education fall hardest on community colleges. [3]

Community colleges educate 40% of post-secondary students – a disproportionate share of lower-income, first-generation college students struggling to achieve their own American Dream. [4]   As debates begin, it is important to remind the nation who community colleges serve. Who aspires to attend community college? What threats would funding cuts pose in the long run to the economy.

A national survey of high school students[5] finds interest in community college grows as graduation approaches, rising from 13% of high school freshmen to 32% of high school seniors. They are important to all racial and ethnic groups, but aspirations to attend them are highest among Hispanics (26%).

Community college aspirants are on different educational paths.[6]

  • 22% solely aspire to community college
  • 66% also aspire to a traditional 4-year public or private college.[7]

Community college aspirations are more common among C students than among A students (28% vs. 17%). But with differences show the importance of the community college mission to low-income students:

  • Among “A” students aspiring to community college, 77% also aspire to a 4-year college and only 14% plan to end their education with community college.
  • Among “C” students aspiring to community college, relatively fewer aspire to a 4-year college (55%) and relatively more aspire solely to community college (30%).

Community college aspirants on different paths bring different levels of preparation:

  • 22% also aspiring to 4-year college have taken AP course; 30% have taken honors classes.
  • 8% who aspire solely to community college have AP courses; 12% have honors classes.

Community college aspirants on different educational paths have different career influences. Aspirants focused solely on community college are less likely than community college/4-year aspirants to report their own interests as influencing their career pathway (52% vs. 63%). This suggests community colleges must prepare to help their more self-motivated students transition to 4-year colleges as well as guide those who plan to end their education with a community college credential to prepare for the 21st Century economy.

Can community colleges continue to serve this diverse population of aspirants if funding is cut? Can the US economy thrive if fewer are served or more served less well?

[5] Data are from a national survey of high school students conducted during the 2015-16 school year. 59,423 students indicated aspirations to attend community college.
[6] 8% of community college aspirants also considered a technical school/college and 3% also considered an online college.
[7] Students could not indicate the preference order.