Including transfers, completion numbers rise

New data that includes transfers shows more students are completing degrees, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Fifty-four percent of students complete a degree in six years — including 12 percent who transferred.  In all, 22 percent of students earn a degree from a different college than the one where they started, the report found. Three-quarters of full-time students complete college within six years.

The clearinghouse tracked 94 percent of college students. U.S. Education Department data is less complete, notes Inside Higher Ed.

In contrast to the newly released data, the federal government’s tabulations of degree production and graduation rates generally do not capture transfer or other student “swirl” factors. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) also misses half of all students with institution-level data based only on first-time, full-time students.

Community college completion rates look much better in the new analysis.

“The clearinghouse report both provides a significantly more accurate and much more positive picture of community college completion than the graduation rates from the U.S. Department of Education,” said David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research for the American Association of Community Colleges.

Twenty-four percent of community college students complete at the same college within six years, but that rises to 36 percent when students who graduate elsewhere are included.  Another 20 percent of students are still enrolled in college.

The new mission

Rebalancing the Mission: The Community College Completion Challenge, a policy brief by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), looks at the issues colleges will face as they move from focusing on access to stressing success.

The new mission includes providing dual-credit classes for high school students, affordable classes for “swirlers” also enrolled in four-year institutions and vocational classes for “retoolers.”

Traditional completion rate measures count only associate and bachelor’s degrees, the policy brief notes. Success should include helping students earn certificates that will help them find employment quickly. In some cases, retoolers only need one or two classes to meet their goals.

Other students need help finding their education paths.

Stackable credentials, career pathways, and applied associate and bachelor’s degrees have emerged as ways to provide opportunity for continued academic progression for those who might otherwise have enrolled in terminal training programs.

Federal officials and higher education leaders are looking for better ways to define success, reports Community College Times.