Texas billboards hit low graduation rates

8% of DCCCD students graduate in 3 yrs. Is that fair to the students? asks the Texas Association of Business in a billboard hitting the Dallas County Community College District. In October, the group criticized Austin Community College for a 4 percent graduation rate on a billboard asking: “Is that a good use of tax $?”

“Ouch,” as Inside Higher Ed puts it.

Austin Community College’s completion-and-transfer rate is 43 percent in three years, responds President Richard Rhodes. He notes the statistics cover only first-time, full-time students, who make up 5.5 percent of enrollment. (However, graduation rates are higher for this group than for older and part-time students.)

The billboard shows a “fundamental lack of understanding about the mission of community colleges and who our students are,” (pdf) responded Wright L. Lassiter Jr., chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, in a letter to Hammond. The average student is 27, Lassiter wrote.

“They must balance work with family responsibilities and attending college. Yes, it seems they have lives that might interfere with the Texas Association of Business’s limited timeline.”

Completion rates are low for part-time students too, the association replied. Only 24 percent of part-time community college students who said they were seeking a degree complete a certificate or degree in six years, including transfer students who earned a bachelor’s degree.

The business group started looking at graduation rates three years ago when members complained they couldn’t find qualified workers, Bill Hammond, the association’s president and CEO, told Inside Higher Ed.

Hammond said the billboard campaign’s goal is a “better-educated workforce,” and community colleges aren’t getting the job done. About 9 percent of first-time students who enroll at two-year colleges in Texas graduate with an associate degree within four years, according to Complete College America.

“In Texas for a long time we have successfully focused on access,” Hammond said. “We’re spending a lot of money and not getting much in return.”

Hammond said he hopes both lawmakers and community college leaders tune into the group’s message. “They need to turn their focus to completion.”

Colleges should be funded based on performance, such as graduation rates, rather than enrollment, Hammond said.


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