According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment in community colleges has fallen 37% since 2010, or by nearly 2.6 million. The numbers also show that four out of five who enter community college desire to go on to get a bachelor’s degree, but the reality is that only one in six does. The research concludes that two-year community colleges have the worst completion rate of all colleges and universities—almost 50% of students drop out within their first year.
For community colleges in California, the story is just as grim. Enrollment has dropped to the lowest in three decades, according to a Los Angeles Times report. A survey of former California community college students by the RP Group, a nonprofit research center, discovered that one-third hadn’t re-enrolled because they had to prioritize work; 22% said they had to focus on taking care of family or other dependents; and 29% struggled to keep up with their classes.
Accessibility to online courses and course material can make all the difference for those juggling work and family responsibilities and sober living house.
“The stats are sobering,” acknowledges Shannon Meadows, Non-Executive Director for BibliU, a learning enablement platform. BibliU enables higher education institutions to streamline their textbook and courseware workflows to enhance student’s achievement and reduce costs.
Meadows points to several factors affecting community colleges nationwide, including in California. For starters, the number of high school graduates enrolling in college as soon as they finish high school is decreasing. Ongoing fallout from the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon that started during the pandemic, continues to impact the job market. “When there are jobs paying $30 an hour because employers can’t find workers, it’s tempting for people to take the high-paying job instead of going to school,” Meadows says.
Furthermore, she says, with so much attention on student loan debt, people are questioning whether college is worth it, even though community colleges don’t carry the price tag of four-year institutions. It can also come down to basic logistics, like how easy or hard it is to register and get financial aid, the availability of advisors to assist with degree pathing, as well as flexibility, including being able to take classes online. “This demographic has challenges; they may be working one or more jobs or be single parents who need childcare. They have a lot of life demands,” says Meadows.
It’s also very much about money. “It’s not just the cost of tuition, but also books and fees,” she adds. “People leave school for financial reasons. While some community colleges have free tuition, even that doesn’t solve everything because other living costs are high.”
Like community colleges elsewhere, California’s two-year schools face declines in enrollment and funding. Nationally, community colleges receive less revenue per student ($8,000-$9,000 less) compared to four-year schools. Additional issues include ensuring students are prepared when transferring to a four-year institution or to complete their two-year program.
Bridging the gap
While there’s no quick fix for what ails community colleges, BibliU offers some solutions. Books are often an unpredictable school cost. Those who can’t afford the books for their classes borrow from other students or the library, try to get a PDF, or go without and do poorly as a result. Colleges with BibliU’s Universal Learning and some of their students pay only $50 per book. The solution also ensures students have books and course materials on or before the first day of class without breaking the bank – a win-win for the student and the school. “Students can save 3O% to 50% a year on books,” says Meadows.
BibliU’s Digital Textbook Reserves allows libraries to fill their coffers with digital books. “Students can readily access books when they need to, from wherever they are, eliminating the need to go to the library and reserve the use of a textbook for a few hours,” notes Meadows. This can help set the stage for academic success.
BibliU provides access to all types of content, including OER. It maintains a catalog of more than two million titles that instructors can choose from. “We’re a software company that gets book lists from schools and provides instant access to books in a digital format,” explains Meadows.
The company also provides analytics for the digital textbooks in use. Professors can access a dashboard that shows usage statistics, leveraging the insights to evaluate if their textbook choice is effective or if it’s time to choose another textbook to increase classroom reading. If a student isn’t accessing the digital textbook regularly, the professor can reach out to address any problems, enhancing student outcomes.
“We’re a learning enablement platform that empowers institutions and students to perform better,” Meadows says of the EdTech company’s mission. London-based BibliU was co-founded in 2013 by Dave Sherwood, a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, who was inspired to launch a solution to high textbook costs. The company has headquarters in the U.K. and in New York.
BibliU’s Learning Enablement platform was built with the intention of making learning more equitable, effective and efficient. More than 100 colleges and universities in the U.K. and U.S. use BibliU’s products and services.
The next level
The BibliU business model has legs. “We will increase our presence in the U.S. by expanding our partnerships beyond higher ed institutions to include other educational content providers,” says Meadows.
She sees a digital transformation on the horizon. “Like many retailers, the bookstore model has been challenged by online retailers and marketplaces, where many students buy their books. Universities may move from offering a bookstore to more of a campus general store with less emphasis on books,” she says.
Looking ahead to next year, the company will work to support Dual Credit programs, which enable students to earn college credits at a community college while still in high school. BibilU’s newest offering, Engage, will help instructors and publishers increase student engagement through an interactive format, like layering in quiz questions linked to certain parts of the text.
While more colleges may close or merge with other colleges, Meadows is optimistic about their future. “Community colleges are key to the educational system,” she concludes. “They will continue to innovate. There will be a lot of opportunities for digital content and distribution to help institutions better serve their population. I’m excited.”