Does College Focus Matter? Explaining Differences in Performance Among Community Colleges in North Carolina

By: Michael Dunn & Arne L. Kalleberg | May 2016

The evolution of community colleges from their origins as junior colleges to institutions with dual missions to provide both academic and workforce preparation raises questions about the impact of a college’s mission focus on its students’ labor market success. This paper examines this question using data from the 58 colleges in the North Carolina Community College System.

Results indicate that students from community colleges that focus on career or workforce preparation had higher labor market earnings than did students from comprehensive community colleges or colleges with an academic focus; about one fifth of the variation in students’ earnings across community colleges was due to the college’s mission focus. A number of other community college variables enhanced students’ earnings, such as larger institution size, serving a single county, and having low proportions of remedial students.

A version of this paper is published in the Journal of Educational Issues.

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