About half the students enrolled in California's community colleges take more than four years to graduate, double the traditional two-year commitment, a study released Tuesday found.
Of the nearly 64,000 who received a single associate degree in the 2012-13 academic year, the median student took 4.1 years, the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity said.
"We're all talking about a college affordability crisis," said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the group that examined the graduation rates of the 2012-2013 graduates. "And time is part of that crisis."
State community college officials said that nearly 80,000 students received an associate degree in the 2012-13 year, but some may have earned additional certificates or degrees. The study only examined students who earned an associate's degree.
According to the report, several factors contribute to the lengthy time it can take to get a degree, including insufficient course offerings, work and family obligations, and the need for students to finish remedial courses.
During the recession, California's 112 community colleges saw their budgets cut by nearly $1 billion, forcing them to reduce class schedules.
"Because of the lack of state funding, we had to reduce our workload and students were on long waiting lists, so that was a big factor," said Francisco Rodriguez, the new chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.
Some students who couldn't get into required courses ended up taking ones they didn't need to remain eligible for financial aid, the study found. The report said the 2012-2013 graduates accumulated more than 78 credits — almost a third more than required. Those who enrolled in remedial courses took an additional 20 credits before earning their degrees.
And that lost time, the report said, can prove costly. A student who gets a degree in six years from a Los Angeles-area community college will incur an extra $120,000 in expenses and lost wages over his or her career compared to someone who finished in two years.
The study recommended that colleges make it easier for students to take and complete remedial courses and make sure that low-income students have access to financial aid. It also called for increased funding to community colleges.
California's community colleges already have implemented many of the suggestions, including establishing a streamlined transfer program with the California State University system. The number of students receiving financial aid and completing remedial courses also is on the rise, according to community college officials.
The study also looked at students who earned a bachelor's degree from a Cal State campus during the 2011-12 academic year. That median student took 4.7 years to reach that goal.
Cal State officials said they agreed with the study's findings and have implemented measures to speed student graduation rates, including hiring more faculty, redesigning courses and reducing the number of programs that require more than 120 credits to complete.