Researcher Answers Questions in New Book

“Do Community Colleges Respond to Local Needs? Evidence From California”

September 24, 2007

By Pamela McLaren

Three years ago, working under a nearly $75,000 grant from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Andrew Gill sought out answers to two questions: Do community colleges meet the needs of their communities and how well do they help recent immigrants move through the higher education process.

In August, the economics professor saw the results of his research published in “Do Community Colleges Respond to Local Needs? Evidence From California” by the W.E. Upjohn Institute.

“It used to be that the role of community colleges was seen as solely preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions or to provide occupational training,” said Gill. “Today they provide a wide range of training from basic adult education — including English as a second language — to serving an economic development role, implementing training programs to enhance existing employee skills to meet the changing needs of their employers.”

To answer the question about recent immigrants, Gill and Duane E. Leigh of Washington State University looked at a cohort of students who attended community college from 1996 through 2002.

“We looked for answers to three questions: do recent immigrants transfer to four-year institutions at the same rate as nonimmigrant groups? Do they achieve an associate degree at the same rate as nonimmigrant groups? And, do they complete as many credits?” said Gill. “We looked at race and ethnicity, and how much of the differences between groups we could explain through background, GPA, interest in transferring and academic performance in college?”

Through their study, Gill and Leigh found that “by far, Asians had the highest transfer rates, as well as highest total credits — nearly three times as many at Latino students,” Gill said, adding that Asians have 25.4 percent transfer success, while white, non-Hispanics have a 14 percent success rate.

Part of the answer for the disparity between Asian and other immigrant groups may be due to geographic clustering, noted Gill.

To help the other groups, particularly Latinos, “community colleges have to focus on ways of getting these students through the system, using mentoring or tutoring opportunities and talks by community leaders that encourage them to continue,” Gill said.

Similarly, when it comes to economic development, community colleges must be responsive to their communities in providing training for current, as well as future, employees. “Public policy is fairly straight forward in that regard,” said Gill.

To find out how well community colleges were meeting the demands of their communities, the researchers looked at the proportion of credits in certain vocation fields completed and compared it to the percentage of new jobs in those fields in the regions in which the colleges serve.

“It was a simple approach but we found some schools matched the needs of communities very well,” said Gill.

Andrew Gill
Andrew Gill
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