Completion rates at Southwestern College, a community college in Chula Vista, have dropped below the statewide average, and its rates fell well-below other community colleges in the region, according to data released by the Student Success Scorecard.
The accountability report released Tuesday measures the percentage of students who earn a degree or transfer to a four-year university within six years, according to The Sacramento Bee.
That completion rate at Southwestern College was at 43.5 percent last year, up slightly from the year before, but below the statewide average of 48.1 percent, and below the institution's 2011 score of 48 percent.
"It doesn't really surprise me," said Dr. Melinda Nish, the school's superintendent. "It's incredibly worrisome, but we've known the rate is lower than it should be and we've been working diligently to correct that."
The results for California Community Colleges have fallen steadily over the past four years across the state's 112 community colleges, a trend experts attribute to the recession and budget cuts at the state level.
In Chula Vista, Nish cited economics as well, pointing out that more than three-quarters of the South Bay students are working part-time or full-time while attending school.
"We have some of the most at-jeopardy students in the region in terms of socio-economic status. Our service area includes some of the poorest neighborhoods in the county," she said. "With all those factors, we still think we can improve."
Results at other community colleges in San Diego County have steadily ticked downward, but remain above the statewide average.
At Mira Costa College, the percentage of students who either transferred to a four-year college or earned some type of degree was 55.9 percent. At San Diego Miramar College, that rate was 53.6 percent. At San Diego City College it was 63.7 percent, and at Palomar Community College District the rate was 50.6 percent.
District spokeswoman Lillian Leopold cautioned that the numbers may not show the complete picture.
The figure includes students who may be taking one or two classes to improve job skills and those who have no intention of obtaining an additional degree or transferring, she said.
In 2012, the college implemented a three-point plan to target completion rates. That plan includes an online student education plan, which will help capture students' goals, including those who only intend to improve workable skills, Leopold said.
The college is also reviewing completion rates by program, and working with the nearby high school district to ensure students begin their college careers with appropriate math skills.
Last year, district officials placed a goal for the college to reach a 58 percent rate by 2016.
"I don't think it's unachievable. It may take a few more years than we originally planned," Nish said. "But I think we can do it."