Investigating 10-Year Trends of Learning Outcomes at Community Colleges

Liu, Ou Lydia; Roohr, Katrina Crotts
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ETS Research Report
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Community College Students Critical Thinking Skills English as a Second Language (ESL) ETS Proficiency Profile (EPP) Gender Differences Higher Education Learning Outcomes Mathematics Skills Racial and Ethnic Differences Reading Skills Writing Skills


Community colleges currently enroll about 44% of the undergraduate students in the United States and are rapidly expanding. It is of critical importance to obtain direct evidence of student learning to see if students receive adequate training at community colleges. This study investigated the 10-year trends of community college students’ (n = 46,403) performance in reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking, as assessed by the ETS® Proficiency Profile (EPP), an assessment of college-level learning outcomes. Results showed that community college students caught up with and significantly outperformed students from liberal arts colleges by the end of the 10-year period and made significant improvement in critical-thinking skills. An increasing gender gap was observed in mathematics at community colleges. Prevalent ethnic minority and English as a second language (ESL) gaps were noted but gaps between ESL and non-ESL students and between Hispanic and White students were decreasing. Additionally, Asian students at community colleges showed an overall decline in performance. Findings from this study provide significant implications for community college leaders, researchers, and policymakers.

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