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Community colleges face retirement crisis

40 percent of community college presidents will be retiring over the next five years, according to a new report from Achieving the Dream and the Aspen Institute College Excellence program. Seven million, or half, of all students seeking undergraduate degrees in this country are in community college. So where does that leave us?

Before you get too worried about the future of community colleges, Josh Wyner, the executive director of the college excellence program at the Aspen Institute says this is actually an opportunity to make some big changes.

“What has been ok in the past is not going to be ok in the future," he says.

Wyner says today’s crop of college presidents have been focused on doubling endowments and tripling enrollments. However, there are different ways to measure success at an academic institution, and by at least one measure, today’s schools need some work.

“The majority of community college students today do not graduate,” he says.

60 percent of students, says Wyner, are not finishing school. So, he says, as new presidents are hired, schools should change focus. But leading a community college where students have academic and economic challenges can be tough. So who’s going to want these jobs?

Regina Peruggi, president of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, says “working at community college is one of the most rewarding careers that one could have.”

“I’ve had many students say if it wasn’t for this place, I don’t know where I would be,” she says.

And, if you’re interested, Peruggi is retiring in August.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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