This report examines the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) and its effectiveness in helping Philadelphians attain higher education and marketable job skills. The study compares the college with three sets of similar institutions nationwide based on data from 2008 to 2013 and includes insights from the school’s leaders, as well as local and national higher education experts.
Relative to comparable institutions, the analysis found that CCP has had mixed success in recent years. It produced 1,993 graduates in the 2013–14 academic year, the highest number since its founding 50 years ago. Overall, however, the college’s students earned associate and bachelor’s degrees (from other institutions) at rates that were about average or below average. At the same time, CCP’s tuition was far above the median price of similar schools and was higher than every other community college in the Philadelphia region.
To learn more about the Community College of Philadelphia and why it matters to city residents, view or download the complete report PDF.
Across the country, publicly funded community colleges are facing heightened pressure to produce graduates and skilled workers. The federal government has called for 30 percent more associate-degree holders by 2020, and extensive research has linked these credentials to better job prospects and enhanced quality of life, particularly for low-income individuals.
Community College of Philadelphia, known as CCP, shoulders this challenge in Philadelphia, a city with one of the highest poverty rates and lowest educational attainment levels among major U.S. cities. Founded in 1964 with the mission of making higher education affordable and accessible to all Philadelphia residents, CCP is the city’s only public college offering associate degrees—designed to be completed in two years by full-time students—and transfer paths to four-year institutions leading to bachelor’s degrees. It also provides technical education and training. Each year, it has the city’s highest number of incoming enrollees, most of them Philadelphians, many low-income and the first in their families to attend college. More than 685,000 individuals have attended CCP; graduates include Charles P. Pizzi, former CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick J.V. Sawyer; Pennsylvania state Rep. Dwight Evans; and Kathleen Hetherington, president of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.
This report by The Pew Charitable Trusts seeks to show how well CCP is responding to the call to produce more graduates and fulfilling its stated mission of providing college access “for all who may benefit” and preparing students to “meet the changing needs of business, industry, and the professions.” Our focus is the institution’s effectiveness in helping Philadelphia residents obtain college credentials and marketable job skills.
For this study, we compared CCP with three groups of community colleges nationwide that share key characteristics with the school: one group consisting of colleges that serve large cities, the second made up of institutions with substantial numbers of minority students receiving financial aid, and the third located in regions with a high concentration of colleges and universities.
Relative to these comparable institutions, our analysis found that CCP has had mixed success in recent years. It produced 1,993 graduates in the 2013-14 academic year, the highest number since its founding 50 years ago. Overall, however, CCP students earned associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees (from other institutions) at rates that were about average or below average. At the same time, the college’s tuition was far above the median price of similar schools and was higher than every other community college in the Philadelphia region.
The vast majority of CCP’s degree-seeking students are enrolled in liberal arts and other programs intended for transfer for bachelor’s degrees, as opposed to technical and career-specific majors that lead to jobs. In addition, CCP has struggled to provide the job training that some employers require.
Other key findings of this report include:
- The six-year graduation rate for associate degrees at CCP, 17.5 percent, is slightly below the average of the comparable schools. But African-American, Asian, and remedial students are slightly more likely to graduate from CCP than from similar institutions.
- CCP students are less likely than those at comparable schools to earn bachelor’s degrees at other institutions, with a transfer success rate of just over 10 percent within six years of starting at the college.
- Like other public colleges, CCP has faced flat or declining taxpayer support in recent years. Its students, on top of paying relatively high tuition and fees, are more likely than others to get federal Pell Grants. But they are also more likely to take out loans and face debt.
- Nearly 70 percent of new CCP students must take remedial courses, a percentage not uncommon at comparable colleges. But students at CCP are more likely to finish their remedial coursework than their counterparts at other institutions, although they are less likely to graduate than their better-prepared classmates.
- The college has a mixed record on workforce development and training for local workers and employers. Since the Great Recession, Philadelphia firms reduced their use of CCP’s corporate and contract training offerings to a larger extent than did firms at other Pennsylvania colleges.
Over the years, CCP has undertaken a variety of improvement initiatives, most of them targeted in nature or small in scale. Around the country, other colleges have reported progress through broader, more expensive efforts—such as Washington state’s integration of remedial education and technical training, Chicago’s doubling of its student advisers, and Tennessee’s statewide “free college” program. CCP is launching its own program in fall 2015 to make college free for hundreds of Philadelphia high school graduates every year. The college also says it is now focused on hiring more advisers, lessening the choice of electives in its academic curricula, and making workforce development a top priority.
The president of Community College of Philadelphia, Donald “Guy” Generals, who took office in July 2014, said that CCP needs to make “significant change” and that the change relies, at least in part, on better relations between administrators and the union representing college faculty. All of Philadelphia has a stake in their success.