Community Colleges Offer Support Services, But Many Students Are Unaware

Blog Post
Feb. 28, 2024

This is the third blog in a series that presents our findings from the latest Community College Enrollment Survey. An overview of the survey findings can be found here, and a blog post that focuses on student parents can be found here.

Community colleges offer a variety of support services that help students persist towards completing their programs. Such support services can be oriented around meeting financial, academic, or basic needs. Last year, we found that those who stopped out of their programs were more likely to be unsure of whether their college offered support services compared to continuing and new students. This year’s community college enrollment survey continues to ask questions about the support services offered at community colleges, if respondents know of these services, and if they have accessed the services. Our findings are similar to that of last year: those who stopped out are not as familiar with support services offered by their institution, highlighting the need for colleges to expand and communicate about the available services to their students.

Financial support

As continuers and stop-outs both express concerns over college affordability, financial supports can provide students with a stimulus that helps them persist towards completing their programs. Such financial supports can come in the forms of financial aid, emergency aid, and transportation subsidies that help get students to class. Similar to previous years, we find that financial aid is the most common type of financial support offered to students, with seven in ten continuers and 76 percent of stop-outs sharing that their institutions offered financial aid. Nearly half of continuers (48 percent) and six in ten stop-outs have financial aid (See Figure 1).

Emergency aid and transportation subsidies are other financial supports that help students in times of need. Emergency aid can assist students who have unexpected financial concerns, and transportation subsidies can help them get to class. When considering the awareness and usage of these supports, we find significantly different responses between continuers and stop-outs. While six in ten continuers share that their colleges offered emergency aid, just one-third of stop-outs say the same. A larger proportion of stop-outs (41 percent) were unsure if their former institutions offered such aid. The same is true when transportation subsidies are considered: 54 percent of continuers affirmed that their schools offered this support, compared with just 16 percent of stop-outs. Forty-two percent of stop-outs were unsure if their former institutions offered transportation subsidies.

Three in ten continuers have utilized emergency aid from their college, compared with only 11 percent of stop-outs. Just over one-fourth (27 percent) of continuers report having used transportation subsidies or stipends to get to class, and just 16 percent of stop-outs express the same.

Academic support

Unsurprisingly, academic support services continue to be popular among students at community colleges. Academic advising and tutoring help students succeed in the classroom and are offered at many schools across the country. Seven in ten continuers and 69 percent of stop-outs report their colleges provide academic advising, and 68 percent of continuers and 63 percent of stop-outs share that their institutions provide tutoring. Again, we find that stop-outs are more likely than continuers to be unsure of whether they had access to these academic support services. (See Figure 2).

Although a majority of institutions provide these academic supports, it is not a majority of students that are accessing them. Less than half of continuers (44 percent) and stop-outs (46 percent) have benefitted from academic advising, and even smaller numbers (39 percent of continuers and 25 percent of stop-outs) have used tutoring services.

Career services

Career services assist students in figuring out their next steps after completing their programs, and are well known on community college campuses. Two-thirds of continuers (67 percent) and more than half of stop-outs (54 percent) know that their institutions provide career services to students. Approximately four in ten continuers (39 percent) report having used career services at their school, but the rate is lower for stop-outs: just 23 percent used career services while enrolled at their institution, and an even higher rate (28 percent) were unsure if they had access to career services. (See Figure 3).

Internet access

Considering that most college coursework includes at least some online elements, it is critical that community colleges provide students with access to free high-speed internet. Sixty-five percent of continuers knew that their institution offered free internet access, and 46 percent of stop-outs also knew of their former institution providing this service. Nearly half of continuers (49 percent) report having benefited from access to free high-speed internet, but not as many stop-outs – just 38 percent said that they used free high-speed internet while enrolled. (See Figure 4).

Basic needs

College campuses also assist students by offering various basic needs support services. To combat food insecurity, some campuses have free or reduced meals and food pantries. A majority of continuers (57 percent) reported familiarity with free or reduced meals being offered by their institution, but only 18 percent of stop-outs said the same. Rather, 36 percent of stop-outs were unsure of whether they could access free or reduced meals from their school. Fifty-six percent of continuers knew that their college had a food pantry on-campus, but just 19 percent of stop-outs knew of their former institution having one. (See Figure 5).

Approximately one-third of continuers have benefited from free or reduced meals (33 percent) or food pantry access (31 percent) on their campus. Although stop-outs are more likely to be unsure of whether their former institution had these support services, approximately one in three expressed that they would have used such services had they had access to them.

Some institutions also offer housing support to their students. A slight majority of continuers (51 percent) affirmed that their college offered housing support, but only 18 percent of stop-outs shared this sentiment. Thirty-five percent of stop-outs were unsure about whether they could have received housing support from their former college. One in four continuers have gotten housing support from their institution, and approximately three in ten stop-outs (29 percent) expressed they would have utilized this service had they known or had access. (See Figure 6).

Mental health support

Last but not least, approximately six in ten continuers (61 percent) shared that their institution offers mental health services to students. Only one in four stop-outs were sure that their former institution provided mental health support, with over four in ten (42 percent) being unsure. Three in ten continuers have used mental health services, and an additional 19 percent expressed they would use this service if they had access. A small six percent of stop-outs used mental health services when enrolled, with 22 percent saying they would have been interested in utilizing such support. (See Figure 7).


When all types of student support services are considered, we find that stop-outs are more likely than continuers to be unaware of such offerings. Stop-outs are also less likely to have benefited from these support services when compared to continuers. Support services play a critical role in helping students meet their financial, academic, and basic needs. Knowing this, it is critical that institutions actively work to make students aware of these offerings – particularly those who are at risk of stopping out. Strengthening support services on community college campuses can help retain students who are particularly vulnerable, as well as provide a sense of security for future generations of students seeking to complete programs.


[1] Our survey looks into two groups of students at community college: “continuers,” who enrolled anytime between January 2020 and July 2023 and continued enrollment in fall of 2023, and “stop-outs,” who enrolled anytime between January 2020 and July 2023 and are no longer enrolled. This survey includes an oversample of respondents who are caregivers and was conducted in November-December 2023.

Related Topics
Higher Education Access and Affordability