AACC graduation rates fluctuate over decade


Graphic by Christina Browning

Graduation rates increased steadily early in the decade before decreasing gradually since 2016.

Noah Reem, Reporter

Among Maryland’s 16 community colleges, AACC ranks third in the number of associate degrees it awards each year.

Still, Dr. Mike Gavin, AACC’s vice president for learning, said AACC’s enrollment is far lower than the two colleges that graduate the most students: Montgomery College and Community College of Baltimore County.

“We’re near Montgomery and CCBC in the number of completions, but we’re significantly lower than them in terms of enrollment,” he said.

According to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, AACC awarded 1,622 associate degrees in 2018, while Montgomery College gave out 2,578 and CCBC granted 2,131.

In addition, AACC awarded the second highest number of certificates in 2018 compared with the other community colleges, according to MACC.

“I believe it is the commitment to academic excellence, our faculty performing well in the classroom … working for the benefit of all students,” Gavin said.

AACC’s Executive Director of Strategic Communications Dan Baum said President Barack Obama challenged colleges nationwide to increase graduation rates. Since then, Baum said, AACC has made that a priority.

“With each strategic plan, we have placed greater and greater emphasis on those strategies that can improve student success so more students can achieve their educational goals,” he said.

The number of students graduating from AACC increased every year from 2009 to 2015, hitting a peak in 2015, with 1,852 associate degree graduates and 1,154 earning their certificates.

In 2016, the number of graduates at AACC, along with all other Maryland community colleges, started declining.

“Our enrollment dipped with the stronger economy, and so our completion rates over time have as well,” Gavin said.

MACC’s Director of Research and Policy Brad Phillips confirmed that “when the economy is doing well, people choose to stay at their jobs rather than go back to school. However, when there is a downturn in the economy, more people will go back to school.”

Phillips said community college enrollment has declined statewide since 2016 because of a healthier statewide and nationwide economy.

“We found a 35,000 to 40,000 [student] decrease in enrollment [statewide] over the past few years,” Phillips said.

He said another reason for lower graduation numbers is a trend among students to transfer to four-year colleges sooner instead of waiting to graduate from community colleges.

Still, Gavin said, the number of students who are graduating after three years at AACC has risen by 5 percent over three years.

In 2016, AACC awarded 1,778 graduates with associate degrees and 673 students with certificates, according to MACC.

By 2018, those numbers dropped to 1,622 associate degree graduates and 625 who earned certificates.

Baum said AACC’s plan is to encourage students to complete their degrees at the college.