Brittany Wagner

Last month, President Obama unveiled a plan to make two-year community college “free and universal” for all. Show-Me Institute Distinguished Fellow James Shuls was quoted by St. Louis Public Radio, “To simply say we’re going to give away free community college sounds better than it actually is. You’re not pulling community college out of a hat, like a rabbit that a magician’s pulling out. Somebody’s paying for it.”

In Missouri, high school students already are able to receive subsidized community college. The A+ Scholarship Program incentivizes high school students to perform tutoring hours, to maintain a record of good citizenship, and to graduate with a GPA of 2.5 or above. In exchange, students attend community college “for free.” The program cost the state $30.4 million in fiscal 2014, but is community college worth the cost for Missouri taxpayers?

The National Student Clearing House Research Center looked at six-year completion rates for students across state lines in both two-year and four-year institutions. The research center’s findings differ from other studies in that students who transfer to another institution in or out of state are counted in the home state’s graduation rate. For Missouri, these new data boost the total completion rate for students who start at four-year institutions from 39.24 percent to 63.17 percent. This is significantly higher.

For students who start at community colleges and finish elsewhere, the increase in completion rate is less drastic. The data below show the six-year outcomes for students who start at two-year public institutions in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri.

State Total Completion Rate Finished at Starting Institution Finished at Different 2-Year Finished at Different 4-Year Subsequent Completion at 4-Year Total 4-Year Completion Still Enrolled at 2-Year Not Enrolled Anywhere
Illinois 43.81 29.69 3.44 10.67 9.31 19.98 15.44 46.76
Missouri 39.87 24.24 5.73 9.90 7.92 17.82 14.82 45.31
Kansas 47.87 27.60 4.14 16.13 9.08 25.21 16.02 36.12

The completion rate for students who start at two-year institutions in Missouri is less than 40 percent. Only 17.82 percent of students starting at two-year community colleges complete four-year degrees. After a six-year period, a little over 45 percent of community college students were not enrolled anywhere.

Similar to other states, Missouri’s community colleges do not seem to be successful at retaining students or preparing them for four-year degree programs. Why should taxpayers spend more? Because as Shuls pointed out, “free community college sounds better than it actually is.”

About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.