Community colleges expanding disclosure on graduation rates and other outcomes

July 21, 2014

Dozens of community college leaders, dissatisfied with how the federal government measures graduation rates at their schools, have signed up for an alternative reporting system that provides more information about student outcomes.

The disclosure initiative, through a nongovernment Web site called Student Achievement Measure, shows the share of students who start at a community college full time and earn an associate’s degree or certificate within six years. It also shows the share of that group who are still enrolled at the school, the share who transferred elsewhere and the share whose status is unknown. And it gives a similar readout on the progress of students who start as part-timers.

Federal graduation rate data for community colleges typically focus on the share of first-time, full-time students who complete an associate’s degree within three years. Often, the federal data also show the share of those who transfer out. The trouble with those metrics, according to community college advocates, is that many students take longer than three years, and many start as part-timers.

The federal government plans in the 2015-16 school year to start collecting data on what happens with students who transfer into a college or who start as part-timers.

Student Achievement Measure, or SAM, was the subject of a Post story last weekend on a movement among colleges to disclose more information about graduation rates and other outcomes of students seeking bachelor’s degrees. Most of the 508 participants so far in SAM are four-year colleges and universities. [Here is a table compiled by The Washington Post that enables readers to analyze SAM data from the four-year schools.]

But 65 of the participants are two-year schools.

The SAM data, said Kent Phillippe, an associate vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges, tell “a more complete story about the outcomes for students.”

For example, the federal government says Northwest Vista College in San Antonio has an 11 percent graduation rate and a 20 percent transfer-out rate for first-time, full-time students who started in 2010.

The SAM readout gives a rundown of what happened to 871 students who started as full-timers at Northwest Vista in 2007 and 1,454 who started that year as part-timers.

Among those who started full-time, 22 percent graduated within six years, 3 percent were still enrolled and 43 percent transferred out. Among those who started part-time, 13 percent graduated, 5 percent were still enrolled and 41 percent transferred out.

The number of community colleges participating in SAM is a small fraction of roughly 1,100 such schools nationwide. None of Maryland or Virginia’s community colleges are listed as SAM participants. The University of the District of Columbia, which operates a community college in the nation’s capital, is listed as a participant but has not yet posted any data.

SAM, launched in 2013, is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. A cross-section of education groups is backing the initiative, including the community college association.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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