By TRENTON JOHNSON
Capital News Service
LANSING— Community college graduation rates are low because many students leave before finding a degree, although experts disagree on whether to consider them dropouts.
The non-completion rate is important because it shows that some students may not have an interest in finishing or can’t finish for a variety of reasons, said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
For community colleges, there is no clear definition of what dropout means, Hansen said.
Hansen said, “Dropouts are hard to explain. Reasons vary as to why students leave college.”
Community colleges shouldn’t be held responsible for those who don’t want to graduate, he said.
Charlie MacInnis, public relations director at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, said, “Many of the reasons are family-related or financially related. Many people lose their jobs and don’t have the money.
“Others have trouble finding a day care center for their children. Others also may have to end up taking care of a sick family member,” he said.
MacInnis said there has been a small increase in the dropout rate since 2009 but percentages don’t mean a lot because students leave for different reasons.
Max Lindsay, dean of student affairs at Alpena Community College, said, “We interview people who withdraw from college and get a reason why they choose to leave.”
Alpena has a 20 percent unemployment rate, and many students will leave to get a job in the state or out of state, he said.
Hansen said 25 percent of people who enroll in community college want to get a degree.
Hansen said others take classes and then transfer to a four-year institution. In that situation, students get what they want and move on.
Others may come to college part-time because they have a job or take care of their children during the day, Hansen said.
In 2009, 12 percent of students at North Central Michigan College dropped one or more classes, MacInnis said.
MacInnis said some students drop classes during one semester and then come back and take the same class the next semester. It’s unclear why they do that, he said.
MacInnis said some students leave because the workload may be too much for them to handle.
The college helps students stay in school, he said, adding that many community college students require more attention than those attending a four-year university.
MacInnis said that his college encourages students to talk to advisors before and after they start classes. Also the college offers a “Student Success Course,” which assists them in understanding how to be a college student.
Its Early Alert program lets students know by letter or e-mail that they are at risk of failing a class. It also lets them know about the availability of tutoring, MacInnis said.
MacInnis said students who leave community college and transfer to a four-year university can’t be considered dropouts because they accomplish what they want to accomplish.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.