How This Funder Is Tackling Low Graduation Rates from Community Colleges

The Cleveland Foundation is a community foundation dedicated to bettering the lives of people in the greater Cleveland area. Recently, it turned its attention to a higher education problem affecting not only Cleveland, but the entire country: low graduation rates at community colleges.

Research indicates that less than half of the students who enter one of the nation's community colleges complete a degree or transfer to a four-year institution within six years. The low rate of graduations or transfers to other degree-granting colleges is a further concern because community colleges have traditionally been the gateway to higher education opportunities for the disadvantaged and many first-generation college students. Many dropouts walk away with debts to repay.

The Cleveland Foundation hopes to improve graduation rates at Cuyahoga Community College (known as "Tri-C") with the help of a $625,000 grant given to the college in support of its "One Door, Many Options" program. 

"One Door, Many Options" underscores how students entering the doors of Tri-C have multiple options for academic and career success, including one-year certificate programs leading to a variety of career options, associate's degrees, and transfers to four-year institutions. Tri-C also expects to establish student-centered success teams to provide additional support to students as they navigate the higher education experience.

Through these teams, coupled with the streamlining of services, Cuyahoga Community College hopes to boost the proporiton of students who complete degrees and certificates, or who transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

A growing number of funders, both national and local, have made programs aimed at improving graduation rates and student persistence in college a key part of their grantmaking activities. Community colleges and other institutions of higher education with ideas for boosting their graduation rates should talk with representatives of their area community foundations or with one of the many nationwide foundations that fund higher education programs.