What if we just counted transfer students?

With the recent push to reform American colleges by focusing more on “outcomes”, a few states have started to adopt the graduation rate indicator to help determine funding for public institutions. Colleges with higher graduation rates will get more money. Colleges with low graduation rates will be punished.

Many colleges complain that this is unfair and unhelpful. As Winona State University’s Judith Ramaley wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently, “a focus on “completion” will not be enough to help us increase our competitiveness, prepare our students to be responsible citizens, and protect and enhance our nation’s role in the world.”

But what if there were another, relatively simple way to measure college success? According to a piece by Joanne Jacobs in Community College Spotlight:

Community colleges’ low completion rates will more than double, if colleges are allowed to count students who transfer after earning at least 30 credits.

An advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Education has recommended the change. Currently, students who transfer to a four-year institution without earning an associate degree are considered dropouts.

This isn’t cheating. One doesn’t need to earn an associate degree in order to enter a bachelor’s degree program. If someone has taken a year or two of classes at a community college and transferred to a bachelor’s degree program, he has succeeded and should be counted as such. No one thinks such a person is really a dropout. The associate degree would be entirely superfluous.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, community college completion rates would be about 40 percent if institutions counted transfers as completing their programs. The current completion rate is 18 percent. [Image via]

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