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Report: California community college completion rates down

Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.
Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.

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According to a new report by the California Community Colleges students earning a two year degree or being ready to transfer to a four-year institution fell 2.6 percent in a six year period that ended last year.

“These results document the damage done by years of rationing education in California," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris. He said budget cuts forced schools to cut down the number of classes offered.

“The fact that our completion rate slipped by only this margin is a testament to the perseverance of these students and the colleges that worked heroically to educate as many of them as possible during those grim economic times,’’ he added.

The statewide completion rate is 48.1 percent. The report makes it difficult to discern regional or other trends because California Community College officials would not make the data available in a way that would allow the state's 112 two-year colleges to be easily compared. The state provides an online look up tool that only allows the public to look at one college at a time.

A brief review shows Southern California colleges hovered significantly above and below the state average. Some examples:

“I think that this should send a red flag that at the K-12 system better preparation is needed,” Southwest College vice president Lawrence Bradford said.

Southwest College is four miles east of LAX. Washington Prep, Fremont, and Locke high schools are the closest traditional high schools. These schools' low test scores in recent years have prompted radical overhauls and conversions to charter status.

Bradford said 93 percent of Southwest’s incoming students are not ready for college level work.

In the 2003-2004 academic year the completion rate at Southwest was 36.8 percent. It dipped to 31.2 percent in a six year period that ended in 2012-2013.

"We're not hiding behind our numbers, we make no excuses," Bradford said.

Southwest is spending nearly $250,000 on six campus tutoring programs to help students. One of the efforts is the five year-old Student Success Center, a tutoring and support facility Bradford said is helping more students graduate and transfer to four-year institutions.

The scorecard focuses on campus-level data such as student demographics and academic completion.

State officials said the figures do include some good news: more community college students are finishing remedial classes and returning for their second year.

More than two million students take classes at California’s community colleges each year, making it the nation’s largest two-year college system.