Community College Enrollment

In North America, community colleges operate under a policy of "open admission." That is, anyone with a high school diploma or GED may attend, regardless of prior academic status or college entrance exam scores. Although community colleges have an open admission policy, students have to take assessment tests before enrolling at the college, due to not all courses being open admission. In California and Minnesota, students who have reached the age of 18 are not required to have completed secondary education; instead, they must simply show an "ability to benefit" from a college's educational program. Under certain circumstances, community colleges will also accept high school students or dropouts.

The open admission policy results in a wide range of students attending community college classes. Students range in age from teenagers in high school taking classes under a concurrent, or dual, enrollment policy (which allows both high school and college credits to be earned simultaneously) to working adults taking classes at night to complete a degree or gain additional skills in their field to students with graduate degrees who enroll to become more employable or to pursue lifelong interests. "Reverse transfers" (or those transferring from a university) constitute one of the fastest growing new community college cohorts.

One threat to enrollment at community colleges is the rapidly increasing popularity of for-profit e-learning and online universities, such as the University of Phoenix, which is now the 16th-largest university in the world. Higher education research and consulting firm Eduventures estimates that 10% of college students will be enrolled in an online degree program by 2008. Many community colleges have supplemented their offerings with online courses to stave off competition from exclusively e-learning schools. For example, Northern Virginia Community College's Extended Learning Institute has been offering distance learning courses for thirty-five years. Texas offers the Virtual College of Texas whereby a student at any community college in the state can attend classes from any of the state's 51 community colleges or four Texas State Technical College campuses, paying local tuition plus a VCT fee of around $40.

California has the lowest community college enrollment fees in the nation, currently set at $36 per unit for state residents.