Access to Higher Education Matters, Says New Policy Brief From AACC

Feb 07, 2012, 09:26 ET from American Association of Community Colleges

Access is an important aspect of completion agendas, says policy brief

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Access to higher education matters and is threatened today, says a new policy brief issued today by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The new policy brief, Why Access Matters: The Community College Student Body, is published today on AACC's website at

Community colleges provide access to higher education for nearly half of all minority undergraduate students and more than 40% of undergraduate students living in poverty. The policy brief paints a picture of today's diverse and expansive community college student body, while expanding on education access for all.

But the open door philosophy found at community colleges is not being rewarded by policy makers focused on completion rates and success indicators buoyed by enrollment data that does not accurately capture what community colleges do and whom they serve. Increasingly, policy discussions related to access and choice in higher education are focused on providing opportunities only to students deemed "deserving."

The policy brief points out that the recent congressional elimination of Title IV eligibility for ability-to-benefit students is an example of the emphasis on serving only those who are most likely to succeed. Community colleges serve approximately 60% of ability-to-benefit students.

This new federal policy disproportionately impacts populations already underrepresented when looking at student success: An estimated 19% of ability-to-benefit students were African American and 31% were Hispanic. These populations each make up 14% of higher education's undergraduate student body.

Although college graduation for these students is a lesser probability than it is for students that are better academically prepared, this federal policy may deny personal and social benefit to tens of thousands of students who want to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Eighty-four percent of community college students works while going to school and more than half (60%) of them work more than 20 hours a week. Working while going to college can increase the likelihood that students do not complete their courses of study and earn degrees.

"Community colleges offer higher education access to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of their income, status in life, age or ethnicity," said Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC. "We fear that success indicators focused on degree completion only, will lead to restricting college access to those who are the most likely to succeed, not those who need it the most."

"America cannot afford an educational system of haves and have-nots that does not meet its employment or educational needs. Revising success indicators to reflect the population community colleges serve and incentivizing colleges to meet those benchmarks is what is needed," noted Bumphus.

The policy brief was funded in part by Lumina Foundation.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Association of Community Colleges is the leading advocacy organization representing close to 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges nationwide. Community colleges are the largest sector of higher education, enrolling 12.4 million credit and non-credit students each year. To learn more about the AACC, visit

Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners.  Lumina's goal is to increase the proportion of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025.  Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.

SOURCE American Association of Community Colleges