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New Measures for Community College Success Urged

Only reporting the graduation rates of first-time, full-time students does not fully capture what's happening on community colleges campuses. So a group of policy experts suggest two-year institutions look at the progress of part-time and transfer students, as well as track the learning outcomes and employment of their students to give a better picture of the performance of community colleges.

The Committee on Measures of Student Success, named by the U.S. Department of Education in June 2010, released its draft report of recommendations Friday. If adopted, they could significantly expand how community colleges collect and report data. The committee was created under the Higher Education Opportunity Act to help two-year degree-granting institutions of higher education comply with the law's disclosure requirements for graduation and develop alternate measures of student success.

Changes in reporting student outcomes are needed to take into account the broad mission and multiple role of community colleges, the committee concluded.

For instance, students often see community college as a stepping stone to a four-year institution and transfer before getting a degree. Also, workers come to campus to take a few classes to upgrade their skills. And more than half now attend part time.

Traditional federal graduation-rate data currently focus on full-time, degree-seeking students. At two-year institutions, about 37 percent of those students receive a degree or certificate within four years. At four-year colleges, 57 percent of students graduate in six years.

Citing these stats from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), community colleges say they have been given a bad rap for low-performance. While the IPEDS data are important, the draft committee reports says they do not fully convey student success at two-year institutions. "Varying student characteristics and varying student motivations for attending two-year institutions underscore the need for federal measures of student success to take into account the multiple outcomes," the report says.

Among the committee's preliminary recommendations for two-year colleges:
-Report graduations rate of part-time, degree-seeking students;
-Distinguish between remedial and nonremedial students in IPEDS graduation rates;
-Create a reporting category that reflects students who transfer to other institutions; and
-Voluntarily collect, disclose, and report measures of student learning and employment.

To comply, the committee suggests the Department of Education provide institutions with technical assistance.

The recommendations were made by a 14-member committee, comprised of community college leaders and independent higher education policy experts, with input gathered at public meetings.

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