Texas Billboards Blast Community Colleges for Low Graduation Rates

The Texas Association of Business is taking aim at low graduation rates in Austin and Dallas.

It's no secret that four-year universities are struggling to increase graduation rates, but the situation is even more dire at the nation's community colleges. According to federal data, only 22 percent of community college students complete their degrees within three years. Now, the Texas Association of Business is bringing attention to that state's dismal community college graduation rates through a series of billboards.

The latest ad, running in Dallas, blasts the Dallas County Community College District with the message "8% of DCCCD students graduate in 3 years. Is that fair to the students?" A similar billboard ran in Austin in October advertising that city's 4 percent community college graduation rate.

Bill Hammond, the association's president, says his organization wants to push the state legislature to tie community college funding to graduation rates. "We're looking at a massive shortage of educated workforce unless we increase the productivity of education in Texas," Hammond told The Texas Tribune. "Overall, two-thirds of the jobs of the future will require some post-secondary degree or certificate." TAB believes if the state gets tough on the community college system, the graduation rate could rise to 60 percent.

But Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Wright Lassiter is defending the state's two-year schools. He wrote a letter to the Tribune expressing disappointment that TAB is attacking "the workhorse and largest sector of the Texas higher education system" instead of supporting "investment in community colleges." Lassiter says DCCCD students don't graduate within three years "because they do not or cannot attend classes full-time." He also points out that many students also never graduate from community college because they go on and transfer to a four-year school. "You should ask our students if they think our cost, convenience, flexibility and quality of classes are fair and whether we make higher education accessible," Lassiter wrote.

While every college should take steps to boost their graduation rates, TAB's billboards don't address the critical question of how these schools can do more with less. Despite growing demand for classes at community colleges, the state's higher education budget has been on the chopping block in recent years. A lack of funds makes it difficult for the schools to offer additional support services and enough classes for students. Maybe the next billboard campaign from TAB should turn the spotlight on that problem, too.

Photo courtesy of the Texas Association of Business

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