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Film Reveals Challenges of Community College Students

Documentary Shows Struggles of Non-traditional Community College Students

UCR professor illustrates how adequate funding and awareness could help prevent at-risk students from falling through the cracks.

(July 20, 2007)

John LevinEnlarge

John Levin

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — The real life struggles of non-traditional students in the community college system are chronicled in the newly released documentary The Costs of Education. The film is a collaborative effort of Professor John Levin at the UCR Graduate School of Education and Director of California Community College Collaborative, and filmmaker, Jeremy Levin. The 14-minute piece is a byproduct of research conducted for Levin’s upcoming book Non-traditional Students and Community Colleges: The Conflict of Justice and Neo-Liberalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Undocumented immigrants, students with children, and physically and mentally disabled students are three areas of focus of the documentary, which includes interviews with students, faculty, administrators and politicians from several different states.

“I met with students who lived in their automobiles, students who were disabled, students who had felony convictions, and students who immigrated to this country with their parents without official documentation,” said Levin. “Everyone I met deserved more. Everyone had to struggle to go to college. No one had an easy road.”

Levin’s research points out that it is the disadvantaged students who ultimately pay the price of institutional neglect. He believes that although the costs of educating this population are considerable, the cost of ignoring their education is significant.

“It is a waste of human potential and a detriment to the social and economic well-being of society,” Levin said.

The majority of the estimated 12 million students enrolled in community colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, are adults and in the lower economic brackets of society. Of the 6.2 million students who are in specific educational programs at community colleges — programs that are leading to associate’s degrees or certificates — close to 50 percent are over 24 years of age.

A large percentage (45 percent) of community college students are the first in their families to attend college with 33 percent representing minority populations. About 41 percent of them work full time and 17 percent are single parents. These students have less than a privileged path through college and face a 75-percent drop-out rate.

The documentary puts faces and names with the statistics that make up the community college student base. Levin hopes that voters and legislators will become more aware of the need to assist students struggling with costs and other personal challenges as a result of hearing their personal stories through interviews conducted for the film. These are students looking to education for employment and a better life.

Levin, an expert in higher education, directs the California Collaboration of Community Colleges (C4) based at UCR’s Graduate School of Education. C4 is a joint program of the University of California and the California Community Colleges. Its mission is to improve the quality of student learning in California with research and support. The collaborative program provides professional development, leadership training and policy research for the community college system.

An expanded 28-minute version of the documentary due out later this year will include a roundtable discussion facilitated by educators, administrators and politicians aimed at providing solutions for this growing problem. To view the documentary see link below.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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