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Federal Committee Begins Work on Reforming How Community Colleges Measure Student Success

Oct 21, 2010

By Elizabeth Kenefick and Marcie Foster

A newly created committee tasked with recommending how the Department of Education should revise its measures for graduation and completion rates at community colleges and other two-year institutions met for the first time this week.

The Committee on Measures of Student Success  includes higher education experts, state higher education officials, students, and other stakeholders. They will meet over the next 18 months to develop recommendations.

Eduard M. Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said the committee's task is complex: Community colleges "have to be things to all people... 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."    

Currently the primary metric used to determine graduation rates only includes data for first-time, full-time students who earn credentials within four years if they are at a two-year institution or eight years if they are enrolled in a four-year degree program.

The committee is challenging the validity of this measure for community colleges. The committee claims that since the measure doesn't include data on significant portions of the typical community college student body (e.g. students that need remediation, part-time students, or transfer students), it doesn't give credit to community colleges for the work they do to educate all students, particularly low-income and low-skilled students.

Furthermore, when measures don't capture accurate information on student success and progression, the data collected can't be used to improve programs and services on campuses. A recent report by the American Council on Education on the various available measures of graduation rates says: "Of the 22.5 million students who enrolled in postsecondary education in 2008, at least 48 percent were not accounted for in the IPEDS [graduation rate]." 

The National Governors Association and the American Association of Community Colleges have proposed voluntary accountability systems to address these and other criticisms. The committee's recommendations will inform potential federally determined standards--a much stronger mandate.

CLASP has identified the importance of strengthening data and accountability systems to accurately measure the successes of all students as one its four key policy areas for action.  For more information on CLASP's recent recommendations to track students across all education and training systems, see Recommendations for Incorporating Postsecondary and Workforce Data into Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, developed in collaboration with other national experts.



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