By Jamie Leigh Griffiths, Corey Shelton, Sarah Farng, Connor O’Brien, and Melissa Priore

BLACKWOOD – With the number of applicants currently at 14,741 students at Camden County College, an overall graduation rate  of 14% may be concerning.

With three different campuses across the county that offer online courses, CCC still has a low graduation rate.  However, it is no different from that of other county colleges across south Jersey.  Why aren’t students graduating from the college?  Patrick Spears, 21,  Cherry Hill, says that he left the school two weeks after his first semester started.

“I hated it,” Spears said, “I wasn’t a big fan of school work in high school so going more didn’t make sense to me, especially because I am the person who’d rather make money now than wait for it.”

For Spears, he found leaving CCC was a career choice.

“I joined the laborers union and am way happier doing this than that,” said Spears.

“I don’t know if you’ve been to thewhitehouse.gov to look at the college score board, but typically community colleges nationwide have a lower rate than four year schools,” said Dr. James Canonica, the Dean of Students at Camden County College, in which he is completely accurate.

Dr. Canonica inside his office.

Dr. Canonica inside his office.

In south Jersey, Burlington County College has a 15% graduation rate, a number not much greater than CCC’s. At Gloucester County College, the graduation rate is 16%.

The numbers shift up for other colleges. Overall, Atlantic Cape Community College has a 19% graduation rate, while Salem Community College students are at a 20% graduation rate, and Cumberland County College students at 23%.

College’s are required to notify students of the school graduation rates according to the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990. This requires the college’s to report full time students status of graduation or retention after three years of attendance.

Dr. Canonica finds that the explanation for low community college rates, especially here at CCC, is that the school includes more than just students who have a goal of receiving an associates degree.

“The community college mission is to have open doors for everyone,” said Canonica, “A lot of students that come into see us, that register, are here for just taking a few courses to improve their skill set or to help with their present job.  Other students come in to take courses here and then transfer to a 4 year school or students come here from a 4 year school, take some courses, because their more affordable, maybe during the summer, then go back to the 4 year school.”

A lot of students attending Camden County College have their eyes set on a university that they plan on transferring to.  That was the case for Steve Machetti, 19, engineering major, Blackwood.

“I couldn’t stand county. It was awful,”said Machetti, “All of my friends went away to four year schools and I decided to try and take the cheaper route and regretted it every day.  I really was miserable.”

Machetti left the school before obtaining an associates degree and now attends Rowan University, which he finds to be a better college experience than his time at CCC.

“I mean it’s really not the school’s fault because students don’t live there.  There’s no real motivation to make friends, have fun, or really even enjoy it,” said Machetti about community college campuses.

Patrick Owens, 22, Berlin, graduated CCC in 2012 with a degree in Communications: Radio, TV, and Film.

“I really didn’t mind it. I kind of just woke up, went to school, finished, and started working,” said Owens.  “I was part of the STARS program so I went for free.”

Owen’s was happy with his experience at CCC and was very happy he graduated.

While South Jersey may have low graduation rates for their community colleges, it is not the case for every community college in the country.  Florida has a state-wide graduation rate of 52% for their community college.  East San Valley Regional Occupational Program in California currently holds the highest record nationwide for a 93% graduation rate.

Camden County College might not be close to beating East San Valley anytime soon, but there are many things the school is doing to boost the graduation rate.

“Every semester we run a list of students that have attained over 60 credits and we check their degree audits to see if they qualify for graduation,” said Dr. Canonica, “If they do, we send them a letter telling them ‘Congratulations, it appears that you’ve made the requirements for graduation and we’ll be sending you your diploma.’”

The school also sends graduation packets out to students who achieve at least 54 credits. For students who are interested in going to a four year university, CCC has new programs that will be available to students.

“We’ve signed agreements with Rutgers, both the New Brunswick campus and the Camden campus,” said Dr. Canonica, “They can get a degree from Rutgers while still staying at the Blackwood campus.”  It is within these programs that the school is hoping to gain more graduates per semester due to convenience.

Dr. Canonica, a community college graduate himself, participates in the graduation ceremonies every semester and enjoys seeing the graduates who have achieved a degree.

“I realize, all the students coming down the aisle, what a wonderful opportunity that they’re going to be looking at as they walk out with their diploma.  Whether they’re going on to a career or whether they’re going on to a 4 year school,” said Dr. Canonica, “The opportunities are boundless from an economic standpoint, from a personal standpoint, from a family standpoint.”

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