The rate of California community college students reaching their goals of transferring or earning an associate degree within six years has slipped in recent years, dipping below half for the latest group tracked by the college system, an analysis released Tuesday shows.
Statewide, 49.2 percent of the students who enrolled in 2006 to earn a certificate or transfer to a 4-year college did so within six years, compared with 52.3 percent of those who started college in 2002. Completion rates for black and Latino students were below 40 percent.
Bay Area schools reflected the statewide trends, with completion rates sliding at about two-thirds of the colleges.
The past five years have been rocky for the state's 112 colleges and the students who turned to them during the recession. As unemployment swelled, the system simultaneously saw soaring demand and $1.5 billion in state funding cuts, forcing its colleges to cut back on student services and classes. State universities also accepted fewer transfers during that time, another factor working against students.
"This system has been stressed dramatically, and it doesn't surprise me at all that we've seen these numbers soften as a result of that," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.
The newly revised report -- the Student Success Scorecard -- reveals the completion rates for students who enrolled each year between 2002 and 2006, with breakdowns by college, gender, age, ethnicity and academic preparation. It also shows how many made it through their first year of school and enrolled in a third semester and how many students completed career technical education programs.
The revamped version of the system's annual accountability report was created to help more students, particularly Latinos and African-Americans, succeed. It makes California Community Colleges "the most transparent and accountable system of public higher education in the nation," Harris said Tuesday.
Soon after its release on Tuesday morning, the report generated a buzz on the Foothill and De Anza college campuses, said Linda Thor, chancellor of the district based in Los Altos Hills.
"We're asking questions now about 'What can we do, or what more can we do about this particular outcome?'" Thor said.
As at other schools, those who came academically prepared to Foothill and De Anza colleges were far more likely to succeed than those who needed remedial courses in math or English. At Foothill, the difference in completion rates was dramatic: 83 percent compared with 50 percent.
At San Jose City College, the rate of students completing a degree, certificate or four-year¿ college transfer fell from nearly 49 percent to 43.5 percent. Among the college's Latino students, its largest ethnic group, just one-third of those who started school in 2006 accomplished their degree or transfer goals within six years.
But the score cards also offer another, more hopeful, insight: Statewide, unprepared students are making it through their first year and enrolling in a third straight semester at even greater rates than those who don't need to take remedial courses.
The same is true for Latino students, who make up about 36 percent of all community college students and whose persistence rate -- 66 percent -- is roughly the same as for their white peers.
Realizing how badly these students want to succeed might spur colleges to help them through their remedial courses as quickly as possible so they can begin earning college credits, said Tamela Hawley, executive director of research and institutional effectiveness at the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District.
"It's striking," Hawley said. "It's like they're saying, 'Look, we're still here! We want to make it!'" At Oakland's Merritt College, only 40 percent of students who started school in 2006 reached their goals, compared with 48 percent of the group that started in 2002.
The low completion rates didn't surprise Onome Ntekume, an 18-year-old nursing student at Merritt who works at the school's busy tutoring center.
"A lot of my friends have dropped," she said. "For some, it was money. For some, it was way too hard and they just said they needed a break. Some even ran away just because of mathematics," she said.
Students looking for community colleges will look at this information before deciding where to go, said Lenny Zielke, a Merritt College student who also tutors his peers.
When making his choice, he said, "I had to wing it based on what information I had."
Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.
The Student Success Scorecard rating every community college in the state is posted at http://scorecard.cccco.edu/scorecard.aspx.