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Discounted Dreams: High Hopes and Harsh Realities at America's Community Colleges

Without community colleges, the American economy would grind to a halt. They educate nurses, law enforcement officers and computer technicians. They are the gateway to the American dream for millions of citizens, new and old. These 1,200 institutions represent the fastest-growing segment of American higher education; their open admissions policy, low tuition and flexible scheduling draw students from all walks of life. Important as they are, they are also seriously flawed. One problem is chronic under-funding. Government generally spends five times as much on prison inmates as it does on community college students, for example. And the "open door" admissions policy is too often a revolving door, with barely 30 percent of students ever earning a degree or certificate or successfully transferring to a four-year institution. Vital but flawed, huge but virtually invisible. Resolving these contradictions is essential, not only for those directly involved but also for the American future.