Revised data show community colleges deserve more credit for student success

Community colleges have long been criticized for low graduation rates, but the Department of Education's newly revised graduation rate model suggests that two-year institutions deserve more credit for student success, Kevin Carey reports for the New York Times.

The previous community college graduation rate only measured the percentage of first-time, full-time students who graduated from the institution they started at within three years, Carey writes.

The old set of rules favored four-year institutions where the average undergraduate is first-time, full-time student and a recent high school grad, he argues. Most community colleges, however, support learners who work or parent or are re-enrollees. Many community college students also enroll part-time, take longer than three years to graduate, or transfer to a four-year institution, he adds.

Related: Eliminate persistence barriers with guaranteed course schedules

Under the old model, community colleges had a 20% three-year graduation rate on average across the United States. The low success rates pushed some students towards for-profit institutions that boasted a 63% graduation rate for their two-year programs, Carey writes.

To better reflect the experience of the typical community college student, the Department of Education made three key changes to the graduation rate calculation in October: tracking part-time and returning students, extending the graduation rate to eight years, and measuring the number of transfers.

Now, community colleges boast an average eight-year graduation rate of 27%, and including the percentage of students who transfer bumps the success rate up to a whopping 60%, Carey writes.

North Shore Community College (NSCC), for example, had a 19% graduation rate under the old model. But the new success rate calculations boosted NSCC's graduation rate to 35%—and its combined graduation/transfer rate up to 54%, he writes.

The graduation rates for two- and four-year students at for-profit colleges, on the other hand, have dropped two percentage points under the new model, and including transfer students only bumps up their student success rate to 39%, he adds.

While community colleges still have room to improve, the recalibrated graduation rates paint a better picture of what community college student success can look like, Carey writes (Carey, New York Times, 11/3).

Also see: 3 grant myths that stifle student success efforts


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