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Just 25% of CNY Community College Students Graduate in 3 years, but That's not the Whole Story


The graduation rates at three community colleges in Central New York are going up, according to a new study.  However it also finds that only one-in-four students are graduating in three years.

The study conducted by the Center for an Urban Future is calling on policy makers and the Governor to boost graduation rates.  Fellow for Economic Opportunity Tom Hilliard says community colleges are important for New York’s economy.  He says CUNY schools have boosted graduation rates by 50 percent in eight years by providing supports outside of class.

“That really says that it is possible and valuable to focus on your graduation rates.  So we think that Onondaga and other community colleges in the SUNY system really need to look at evidence-based strategies to improve their graduation rates.” 

The average three-year graduation rate for C-N-Y community colleges in the study was 25 percent.  However, Onondaga Community College earned 23 percent.  Senior Vice President of Student Engagement and Learning Support Julie White says they track success differently by considering the number of students who graduate or transfer and those still taking courses.

“And those are all considered success in our mind.  We track that, actually, using a two-year cohort.  And using that definition of success, 67 % of our fall 2012 students met those benchmarks.”

The study found that O-C-C’s graduation rate improved 5 percent increase in the past eight years.  White notes many community college students have a variety of responsibilities and backgrounds that can make classes more of a part-time undertaking.

“There are folks who are parents, who are employees, who have come back from military service oftentimes and so they’re going to have  a different constellation of needs than what we think of as the typical 18-to-22-year-old college student.”

Hilliard says costs for lower-income students continue to be a barrier and sometimes opportunities that take them away from college come knocking.

“A job opportunity comes up and they make the calculation that graduation is far way and this job is right here, and I’m going to take that.”

He adds that tends to be a mistake, as most entry level jobs with salaries of $40,000-a-year or more require a degree or certificate.  Hilliard feels that state policymakers makers need make increasing graduation rates at SUNY community colleges a priority.  Otherwise, he predicts that the gaps of inequality will widen.


White says graduation success is a focus of the college, improving developmental or remedial education in English and other topics to bring skills up the the level necessary for college courses.  And there are other efforts to help students stay in college and progress.

“In some of our classes that are particularly challenging … we have tutors that sit in the classes with the students and then they’re available outside the classes to work with the students.  So they serve as peer role models,” White said.  “We also developed some wrap-around services.  We have a program called the Community Care Hub on campus for students to access resources that typically they would have to go someplace else in the community for.”

OCC VP Julie White explains some of the ways the college is helping students stay in classes and deal with life challenges and obstacles that could derail their education.

White acknowledges graduation rates are not where they wish them to be.  She adds some students are there to graduate, while others just take a few courses with the intention of transferring.  Others simply take longer to finish because of other life responsibilities.