Redesigning schedules may also help. Complete College America recommends scheduling students for an intensive daily block of classes. CCA also suggests shorter academic terms, less time off between terms, and year-round scheduling, emulating the University of Phoenix and other for-profit colleges.
Successful students don't dally on their way to a degree, Time is the Enemy advises. To help students move quickly, the online Western Governors University gives credit for students' demonstrated competencies, as does Valencia College.
Developmental mathematics has become a "burial ground for the aspirations" of many community college students, said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, at a Carnegie Foundation webinar. The Carnegie Foundation's Statway is trying to redesign basic math education.
Nearly half the states are trying performance budgeting, linking funding to colleges' success at retaining and graduating students. That should be part of the solution, AIR suggests.
[Read how a performance push could hurt community colleges.]
Lumina Foundation's Achieving the Dream project is working with community colleges to improve persistence and completion rates. After five years, there was little change in student outcomes, a report found.
"After decades spent concentrating on open access, many community colleges across the U.S. are acknowledging the hard truth that the vast majority of students are not meeting their educational goals," says Carol Lincoln, senior vice president at Achieving the Dream. "So the colleges are making student access-and-success both an immediate and long-term priority."
Joanne Jacobs writes Community College Spotlight for The Hechinger Report, an independent nonprofit education news site. Jacobs also blogs about K-12 education and is the author of Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.