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Story Ideas: Community Colleges

Community colleges are often tied closer to communities, and offer more access to post-K-12 education, than do four-year schools, making them rich areas for reporters to mine for stories. 

  • Where are they now? Famous community college alumni range from Tom Hanks (Chabot College); Sarah Palin (North Idaho College and Matanuska-Susitna College); Aaron Rodgers (Butte Community College) or Guy Fieri (American River College and College of the Redwoods). Following up on alumni of your local school can generate heartwarming and inspiring features and profiles. 
  • Workforce training: Many community colleges try very hard to serve the local economy and ask local employers for help in deciding which training programs to offer. Some enter into agreements with local employers to provide specifically tailored training to qualified job applicant pools. There are many stories to be done about the job training programs, including whether company-specific training (how to run a particular company’s manufacturing robots, for example) are helpful to long-term economic mobility for students, and whether short-term skill credentials actually help students in the job market.
  • Are transfer promises being kept? Most community colleges market themselves with promises that students will be able to transfer to four-year schools. But there is wide variation in colleges’ actual success. Nationally, just 31 percent of freshmen who enter with transfer plans manage to transfer within six years. What is your college doing right or wrong? Are students able to easily transfer credit to a four-year institution? Are there guided pathways set up to help make students journey easier? While some states make data on transfers in and out of community college easy to track (see this data collection by the Michigan Department of Education, for example), collections on the national level can be hard. The best place to start is the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s transfer tracker.
  • How is your community college evolving? What are the classes and programs that are getting the most enrollment, and how is that demand changing the nature of your school? Is there a lot of demand for short-term work certificates, for example? Or is your campus seeing an influx of academically oriented students looking to get their prerequisites out of the way cheaply? 
  • Who’s REALLY attending? Community college students don’t fit the stereotype of an 18-22-year old recent high school graduate. The average age of community college students is 28. Sixty-five percent are attending part-time. Fifteen percent are single parents. Five percent are veterans. But many campuses haven’t adjusted to the reality of their student body. What is your local community college doing to help the single mom with two kids and a full-time job make it through? What are they doing to help the 35-year-old laid off from the auto parts supplier get retrained? How do they provide catch-up classes to help students be able to handle college-level courses? 

Updated June 2021.