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Data/Research: Community Colleges

Like everything else in higher education, community colleges are awash in data and studies. It can quickly overwhelm you, especially when you’re on deadline.

Here are a few places to start looking.

Data: Where to Get the Key Numbers

IPEDS: The first place to start is with the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System run by the federal government. Use this to easily get data on everything from enrollments to graduation rates to the number of staff in several different job categories for one institution or a whole region.

Perhaps the most important numbers to focus on involves completions — either transfers or degrees. That shows whether the community college is fulfilling its mission.

College Scorecard: Another data collection site from the federal government. Use this to see average debt or average earnings for one institution, or download the entire data set to dive deep. A word of warning: The full data sheet is huge and can be confusing.

Organizations

In an ever-changing field, a reporter’s best friend is an organization that has a history of careful study and publications on key topics. Here are some of the best places to look for help when the deadline is staring you right in the face and you’ve got to file.

The American Association of Community College: The AACC is the trade association. It has helpful quick facts to help place your local institution into context with the rest of the nation, and the public relations team can help connect you with national experts.

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence: Want to be inspired? Visit this website to read about the annual $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. This site includes profiles of innovative colleges from across the country. Also, former EWA public editor Linda Perlstein is a director here and an excellent resource for all things community college.

Community College Research Center is arguably the leading academic consortium studying community colleges.

Credential Engine: Want to learn more about short-term credentials (those taking anywhere from 90 days to two years)? Look at this site, run by a non-profit.

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice: Founded by Sara Goldrick-Rab and housed at Temple University, this group performs groundbreaking research into what it calls “real college.” It looks at issues like housing and food to calculate the true cost of going to college, often focusing on the community college level. The organization has a network of expert sources and contacts at a number of community colleges across the nation.

Rural Community College Association: Many community colleges are located outside of urban and suburban areas. This association deals with specific issues these colleges face. This paper from Nicholas Hillman and Taylor Weichman of the University of Wisconsin – Madison does a good job of talking about rural education deserts and the role community colleges play.

National Junior College Athletic Association: Sports at the community college are often very under covered. Much like the NCAA does for four-year institutions and sports, the NJCAA does for community colleges.

Updated June 2021.