Economic Opportunities Program

Skills for America's Future Community College Facts

Why Community Colleges?

  1. Community colleges are well-suited to address the lack of well-trained, skilled and certified workers across the country.
  2. Community colleges are located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Regardless of their location, businesses can find a community college partner nearby to help them with their job training needs.
  3. In many cases, community colleges are more flexible than other educational institutions in changing their class offerings, class times and even class locations to meet the needs of local employers and workforce.
  4. Community colleges generally have open admissions. The overwhelming majority of potential workers are eligible to take classes at community colleges.

Note on Community Colleges

While many community college students enroll with the intention of eventually obtaining a degree from a four-year institution, many students in fact never intend to go beyond an associate’s degree. Some students only seek to get a certification or credential for professional purposes. Some students only seek to take a class or two to enhance their skills, knowledge or training.

Do keep in mind that:

  • Community colleges are a resource often overlooked by businesses, workers and prospective students alike.
  • Most jobs in the coming decades will require some postsecondary credential and/or training.
  • Community colleges make up almost half of all undergraduates.
  • Community colleges, while a valuable resource, are not perfect. Providing community college students with the skills they need to meet the needs of employers requires more employer-community college partnerships. If the credentials students acquire are to hold their value, students need exposure to educational opportunities that will connect them to business-relevant skills.

Number of Community Colleges

There are 1,167 regionally accredited, primarily associate degree granting community colleges across the country. Most of the 1,167 schools are public (993), though some are independent (143) and some are tribal colleges (31). American Association of Community Colleges database 2011)

Institutional Size

Community colleges vary greatly in size. Some schools are as small as 1,000 students. Other schools serve more than 100,000 students. More than 174,000 students attend the eight campuses of Miami Dade College, which is not only the largest community college in the United States, but also the largest institution of higher education in the nation.

Student Demographics

Nearly 12 million students are enrolled in America’s community colleges. These students make up 44 percent of all undergraduates. (National Center for Education Statistics - 2010) Two-thirds of community college students attend part-time. Minorities comprise forty-five percent of students. The average age of community college students is 28, and more than half are already employed. Simply put, they are a core part of our current and future workforce.

As of 2007–2008 (American Association of Community Colleges)

  • Average age of community college students: 28
  • Median age of community college students: 23
  • 21 or younger: 39%
  • 22-39: 45%
  • 40 or older: 15%
  • First generation to attend college: 42%
  • Single parents: 13%
  • Non- US Citizens: 6%
  • Veterans: 3%
  • Students with disabilities: 12%

As of fall 2008

  • Women: 58%
  • Men: 42%
  • Minorities: 45%

Higher Education and the Workforce

Baby boom retirements should create a steady stream of replacement openings for college-educated workers; by 2020, for example, there will be 40 million college-educated baby boomers between the ages of fifty-five and seventy-five. The United States is not currently producing enough workers with postsecondary education to replace these aging workers.

Between 1973 and 2008, the number of jobs in the American workplace requiring postsecondary education jumped from 28% to 59%. By 2018, the percentage of jobs requiring postsecondary training will increase to 63%. But almost half of these new jobs will only require an associate’s degree or some college. (Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018 - Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce)


According to the College Board, for the 2012-13 school year:  

  • The average cost for public four year colleges is $8,240 in tuition and fees for in-state students.
  • The average charge for full-time out of state students at public four year colleges is $20,770.
  • The average cost for private nonprofit four-year colleges is $28,500 in tuition and fees.
  • The average price for tuition and fees at two-year colleges is $2,690. (College Board)


Community colleges generally have open admission, making them accessible to all. This provides important access to degrees, training and certifications to those who might have challenges gaining admission to or affording other colleges.


The percentage of community college students who must take one or more remedial courses is estimated at about 80%. Fewer than 25% of community college students who took a remedial education course completed a degree within 8 years of enrollment. (Community College Resource Center)

Graduation Rates

Only about 28% of community college students will graduate within three years. (US Department of Education) Those who graduate take five years to complete their degrees. Some community colleges students must go through remediation. Many work and/or are parenting. Some community college students are interested in obtaining a short-term certificate program or simply look to take a class to improve skills.

Revenue Sources for Community Colleges (American Association of Community Colleges)

  • State funds 36%
  • Local funds 19%
  • Tuition and fees 16%
  • Federal funds 14%
  • Other: 15%