Judging Community Colleges

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How can people know if community colleges are doing a good job? That issue is a major point of discussion for administrators attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in Seattle. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed:

After leaders of the American Association of Community Colleges revealed details about a new national accountability system to a packed room here Monday, the first question was simple: Who is this system for? Who needs to understand it?

While some community college educators have been leery of the [accountability] effort, given the wide range of community college missions, demographics and funding patterns, the argument of those supporting the new framework is that it should be possible to come up with reasonable ways to judge institutional success, and the briefing here featured details on just how that system might work.

The current thinking of those creating the community college system is to have two main sections: learning outcomes and job training.

Part of the trouble is that community colleges are expected to do a lot of things—remediation, skills training, community development, introduction to higher education—so they don’t do many things really well and it’s hard to evaluate them in a way that is fair and appropriate.

Many were also concerned that an accountability system, once in place, could be used in ways community colleges didn’t intend. The article pointed out that in 2007, for instance, this magazine used the Community College Survey of Student Engagement to determine the top American community colleges. The CCSSE didn’t want its data used to rank schools because, according to the CCASSE’s director, “community colleges are so different in their student bodies, academic programs, and goals.”[Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer