‘Demographics Are Not Destiny’

Inside Higher Ed

Sara Weissman
October 8, 2021
A new report examines how much control community colleges have over former students’ wages and their ability to pay off loans postcollege.
Students enrolled in community college programs with higher numbers of students from underrepresented minority backgrounds earn less and have a harder time paying back their student loans after leaving college, according to a recent report.
The report from the Brookings Institution, a public policy research institute, also found, however, that other factors, especially the mix of academic programs offered by community colleges, better explain the variation in student outcomes.
“On balance, we find that demographics are not destiny for program-level outcomes in the community college sector,” the report says.
The authors of the report examined postcollege earnings and loan repayment data of community college students in certificate and associate degree programs at more than 1,200 institutions. They tried to determine aspects of the programs related to student performance in the labor market and which of those factors are within a community college’s control.
Ascertaining the influence of those factors may become a high priority for community colleges if the Biden administration restores an Obama-era policy known as the gainful-employment rule and requires community colleges to adhere to it. The rule held career training programs accountable for the level of student loan debt held by graduates of those programs relative to their discretionary incomes.