Community College “Success”

A Department of Education-created committee has now issued its recommendations for what, ideally, community colleges should do. Yes, no one tried to figure this out before.

According to an article by Caralee Adams at Education Week:

The Committee on Measures of Student Success, named by the U.S. Department of Education in June 2010, released its draft report of recommendations Friday. If adopted, they could significantly expand how community colleges collect and report data. The committee was created under the Higher Education Opportunity Act to help two-year degree-granting institutions of higher education comply with the law’s disclosure requirements for graduation and develop alternate measures of student success.

Traditional federal graduation-rate data currently focus on full-time, degree-seeking students. At two-year institutions, about 37 percent of those students receive a degree or certificate within four years. At four-year colleges, 57 percent of students graduate in six years.

Citing these stats from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), community colleges say they have been given a bad rap for low-performance. While the IPEDS data are important, the draft committee report says they do not fully convey student success at two-year institutions. “Varying student characteristics and varying student motivations for attending two-year institutions underscore the need for federal measures of student success to take into account the multiple outcomes,” the report says.

As is true of so many publications written by committee, the recommendations are numerous, lengthy, and at times vague to the point of meaninglessness. But the report, as far as “multiple measure of student success” goes, recommends that community colleges disclose the graduation rates of part time students, transfer students, and students taking remedial courses separately. Current measures, by mashing all of these different populations together, make it appear community colleges are functioning less effectively than they really are, or so the committee seems to believe.

Libby Nelson at Inside Higher Ed reports that the committee had trouble making a decision about measures of students’ employment status and salary after graduation. The report ended up recommending voluntary disclosure of “comparable data on measures of student learning and employment outcomes.”

The need for multiple graduation measures is an interesting point and certainly researchers and education journalists would be eager to look at disaggregated community college completion data. This sort of data is unlikely to be transformative, however. That’s because the number of full-time, non-remedial students at community colleges is actually pretty small.

Furthermore, all of this data collection would be expensive. An education sector already in financial trouble is hardly eager to take on new data collection, especially if this data won’t make it look any better.

Read the report here.

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