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Past Program

College professor instructs students in a classroom
Wed., Nov. 15, 2023

Preparing Our Workforce: The Evolving Role of Community Colleges

Richmond Fed Senior Regional Economist Laura Ullrich shared findings during this event from the Bank’s newly released Survey of Community Colleges Outcomes, which is the first publicly available tool that uses more than graduation rates to gauge how community college students are faring and contributing to the fabric of the workforce.

Ullrich, who leads the Bank’s community college research initiative, explained why graduation data should not be the primary, nor sole, determinant in assessing the relevance of community colleges.

Because their role in the education system is so broad, it has traditionally been difficult to accurately measure the impact of community colleges. However, the data she and her colleagues collected has revealed that community colleges are succeeding by providing other pathways to achieve career goals.

Here are some of the findings they shared on November 15:

  • Students are utilizing community colleges in a wide array of ways to prepare for the workforce — including many facets that are not counted in other available metrics as “successful.”
  • At the schools included in the Richmond Fed’s extended pilot, 14.8% of students in the cohort transferred before getting a credential. These students are not counted as successful in traditional graduation rate metrics, even though they successfully transferred to a four-year institution to continue their education.
  • The Richmond Fed success rate at community colleges across the four states the Bank surveyed (Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and West Virginia) averaged 51.8%, which is 83% higher than traditional graduation rates indicate.
  • Even with the 51.8% Richmond Fed success rate, the average traditional graduation rate for community college students in the Fifth District is under 30%, compared with a graduation rate north of 60 percent for four-year colleges and universities.
  • At the schools included in the extended pilot, 8% of students in the cohort persisted and remained in good standing but did not earn a credential within four years of initial enrollment, which is the time frame used by the Richmond Fed survey to gauge success. These individuals may work full-time, be single parents, or have other responsibilities or disabilities that prevent them from taking a full course load.

District Dialogues was one of two events hosted by the Richmond Fed on November 15 in support of its new Survey of Community College Outcomes.

Highlights of the Richmond Fed’s SSCO data are available on the Bank’s website and in these recordings of the Survey of Community College Outcomes: Results and Lessons from the Extended Pilot Webinar and District Dialogues – Preparing Our Workforce: The Evolving Role of Community Colleges.

Additional information about this ongoing pilot is available on the Bank’s Community College Insights blog.

Moderator and Speakers

headshot of Renee Haltom

Renee Haltom

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Photo of John Rainone

Dr. John J. Rainone

Mountain Gateway Community College
headshot of Laura Ullrich

Laura Dawson Ullrich

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Van Wilson

Dr. Van C. Wilson

Brightpoint Community College

Who Should Attend

This event is open to everyone interested in the role of community colleges in preparing students to enter the workforce, including members of the public, educators, administrators, career or guidance counselors, parents and students, state and local policymakers, workforce development professionals, and community and business leaders.

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