What does success look like?

Defining success for community colleges isn’t simple.  The Education Department’s Committee on Measures of Student Success is trying to go beyond graduation rates, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Current measures count students who transfer before completing an associate degree as drop-outs, even if they succeed in earning a bachelor’s degree.  That should change, committee members agree. But there was no consensus on requiring community colleges to report students’ employment outcomes.

A subcommittee recommended using the existing graduation rate survey of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System as “a vehicle for expanded and reframed outcomes reporting.”  Part-time, degree-seeking students who take six or more credits in their first term should be given 20 terms (10 years) to complete a degree, the subcommittee said.

The subcommitee also suggested defining “substantial preparation” for transfer and reporting degrees awarded and transfers separately. The ultimate success measure would be a “student progress and achievement rate,” which would include students who complete certificates and associate degrees and “prepared” transfers.

The committee also considered alternate measures of success at community colleges. Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, led a subcommittee that suggested colleges publicly disclose results of student learning measures. The Education Department “should not prescribe a one-size-fits-all measure of student learning,”  the subcommittee recommended.  Colleges would decide on “appropriate measures of student learning for their students based on their missions.”  The Community College Learning Assessment could be used or colleges could develop new ways to measure student learning.

This idea was controversial.

Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, deputy director of MDRC, said she worried there were just not enough common or comparable methods of measuring student learning outcomes to warrant a requirement for submission of such data. Wayne Burton, president of North Shore Community College, concurred, arguing that it should fall to other entities — such as states and accreditors — to collect the outcomes data.

By contrast, Thomas Bailey, chair of the committee and professor of economics and education at Columbia University, argued that his committee needs to “respond to the national discussion of student learning outcomes” and that it “shouldn’t shy away from it because it’s controversial.”

Even more controversial was the second suggestion of Carey’s subcommittee that community colleges demonstrate how well they prepare students for employment, perhaps by tracking “the number of students who earned career/technical education degrees and certificates and were subsequently employed,” “wage growth of graduates” and “licensure exam pass rates.”

The Education Department will produce average-salary data for for-profit and vocational certificate programs as part of the new gainful employment regulations, an official said.

There was a stark divide among committee members as to whether the government should merely suggest or require community colleges to provide these types of reporting metrics. Harold Levy, former New York City Schools chancellor, expressed the view that “the more data the better” and that if these reporting requirements are too burdensome, “so be it” — the data would be important for consumer protection.

Burton spoke out vehemently against such a requirement, arguing that community colleges should not be held accountable for what their students don’t do in the employment world after graduation. Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, was more compromising, saying she would be fine with reporting employment data that were already available from other sources, including pass rate statistics from exams like those for nursing licensure.

The final report to Education Secretary Arne Duncan isn’t due till April, 2012.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON June 13, 2011

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