In the United States, where social mobility has been considered a birthright, community colleges are essential to that promise. But America’s one thousand community colleges, which educate nine million students, often fall short of their potential. The lion’s share of the blame lies with policies that systematically shortchange community colleges financially, asking two-year institutions to educate those students who tend to have the greatest needs, using the fewest financial resources.

What can be done? With the support of the William T. Grant Foundation, a twenty-one-member Century Foundation Working Group analyzed the problem over a two-year period, and now offer a bold set of recommendations. Among them, the group calls for the creation of a new body of research that will establish, for the first time, what it costs to provide a strong community college education. Such studies, which are commonplace at the K–12 level, could provide guidance to policymakers on the amount of money to invest in community colleges, and could provide support to community college leaders on where best to invest. Much better research could greatly improve decision-making, the Working Group suggests, substantially boosting the life chances of community college students, and jumpstarting social mobility in America.

This volume includes the Report of the Working Group, along with three background papers:

Members of the working group are Thomas Bailey (Columbia University), Bruce Baker (Rutgers University), Brooks Bowden (North Carolina State University), Anthony Carnevale (Georgetown University), Debbie Cochrane (The Institute for College Access and Success), Michelle Cooper (Institute for Higher Education Policy), Russ Deaton (Tennessee Board of Regents), Wil Del Pilar (Education Trust), David Deming (Harvard University), Sara Goldrick-Rab (Temple University), Harry Holzer (Georgetown University), Tammy Kolbe (University of Vermont), Jesse Levin (American Institutes for Research), Bridget Terry Long (Harvard University), Tatiana Melguizo (University of Southern California), Gail Mellow (LaGuardia Community College), Andrew Nichols (Education Trust), George Pernsteiner (State Higher Education Executive Officers), Ken Redd (National Association of College and University Business Officers), Jennifer Rice (University of Maryland), Robert Toutkoushian (University of Georgia), and Richard D. Kahlenberg (The Century Foundation), Executive Director.