By Jackie Kraemer

High-performing education countries work hard to ensure that all of their students, whether they continue their education after compulsory schooling in university or in vocational and technical training, receive high quality learning experiences.  In the United States, much of the post-high school vocational education and training occurs in community colleges.  On May 7th, NCEE will released a new report, What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?, a two-year study of mathematics and English literacy requirements of first year students in community colleges in the United States.

Enrollment by institution

Community colleges are the primary institution providing technical and career-oriented education in the United States.  The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that more than 40 percent of all first year college students in the United States attend a public or private community colleges. (See chart above)  The percent of U.S. college students enrolled in community college has risen by over one-third since the 1970s.  (NCES, 2012, Condition of Education) Of the students who enroll in these institutions, however, less than 30 percent have earned a degree, even after four years. (See chart below)

Graduation rates by time

remediation rates


One issue with completion rates for community college in the United States is the very large percentage of students who enroll and are then placed in remedial classes from the start.  NCES reports that more than 40 percent of all students who attend community college enroll in at least one remedial class, often more.  Almost all community colleges administer placement tests to incoming students to assess readiness for credit-bearing classes.  Colleges vary in whether they require or merely recommend placement in mathematics or English remediation classes.  Less than 20 percent of students who enroll in at least one remedial class attain a degree within five years of enrollment. (See chart below)

Degrees in remediation The OECD has been the central organization collecting comparative data on post secondary education rates in different countries.  They have developed a classification system for this data, dividing institutions into two types: type A (theoretical programs of three to four years in length, equivalent to a Bachelor degree program in the United States) and type B (a career-oriented program of two years in length, comparable to a community college degree in the United States).   According to the chart below, the U.S. community college graduation rate as a percent of the population has increased slightly since 1995.  What information is available, however, suggests that graduation rates in many top performing countries are also rising, often faster than in the United States.  The chart also hints at the structural differences among countries, with much larger type B systems in many of the countries (New Zealand, Japan and Australia) than in the US.

In the United States, it is clear that the community college sector is a key to training students in technical skills.  To learn more about what students in the United States need to know to be successful in community college, see the NCEE report and watch full video of  the release event at: