Measuring success at two-year colleges

Nobody’s satisfied with the way student success is measured by the federal government. Only full-time students who earn a degree at the same institution where they start count as graduates. That’s very misleading for two-year colleges. But that’s likely to change, reports Inside Higher Education. The U.S. Department of Education’s Committee on Measures of Student Success will recommend whether and how to revise the department’s data on graduation and completion rates at community colleges and other institutions that award associate degrees.

Supporters say the current data don’t reflect the good work the colleges do, failing to account for the many students who transfer to four-year institutions without degrees, and the many students who come to the institutions for something less than a degree — a certificate, or even just some retraining — and get what they wanted. Critics argue that better data would simply provide clearer evidence that community colleges are failing in their mission, reinforcing what are terribly low completion rates at some institutions.

The National Governors Association and the American Association of Community Colleges have proposed “voluntary accountability systems that aim to measure student success across many variables.”

Community colleges “are institutions that have a very complex mission,” Eduardo M. Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said at the start of the meeting. “They have to be all things to all people” as institutions that offer remediation, degrees and certificates, job training, the possibility of transfer to four-year colleges and universities, and continuing education.

“It’s important to have metrics that actually and accurately gauge how these institutions are progressing in terms of meeting their multiple objectives and also prioritizing them appropriately,” Ochoa said.