Community colleges not ready for 'free' college, study says

America's community college is not prepared for the onslaught of students that would come with Democratic proposals for reforming higher education, according to a new study released Thursday.

"If we're really interested in sending more students to community colleges, we cannot do that without seriously reforming the incentives in store for both community college administrators and students," said Judah Bellin, the study's author and a higher-education analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a center-right think tank in New York.

The nation's 1,132 community colleges, which are nonprofit, two-year schools, are cheaper than the alternatives, making them attractive for poorer and non-traditional students looking to upgrade their skills or find a path toward a bachelor's degree. But they also in many cases have poor performance, Bellin notes.

Only about a quarter of community college students earn their degree at their starting institution within six years of enrolling, according to the analysis. Around a fifth are still enrolled after six years, and nearly 43 percent have dropped out.