I’ve written previously about reasons why organization leaders, whether business, nonprofit, or
government, should be concerned about college completion. The talent that these 21rst century organizations need in order to thrive and succeed will come from college graduates who earn a certificate, license, or degree that signifies their readiness to work in a profession.

Full disclosure: I have a special interest in community college completion because I am on the Board of Graduation Trustees of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan and that institution, like all other colleges, is coming under scrutiny regarding the retention and graduation of their students. To learn more about these issues, I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges where concern for increasing student completion rates dominated conference sessions and the exhibit hall.  

I hope the following comments and observations from the conference will stimulate discussion among college trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students.

Student Success Surveys

The opening session honored Byron and Kay McClenney for their work in the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas. Kay McClenney directs the Center for Community College Student Engagement which does an annual Survey of Entering Student Engagement. This survey is interesting to me not so much because of the data but rather because of the survey items and what they say about a definition of student engagement.

In a session on The College Completion Agenda, presenters offered these key points:

  • Access doesn’t necessarily mean success; many other factors determine success.
  • We have to re-imagine what it means to be an educated person today and what should be the new “architecture” of education.
  • Community colleges have to partner with high schools if they want to make sure that students come to them ready to do college-level learning.
  • Parents need to be involved in achieving success; this is especially true in Hispanic families.
  • A big challenge is scaling –up; being able to address needs of all students.
  • Another big challenge is increasing the number of completers while, at the same time, improving quality.
  • Boards of Trustees need to decide how they want to support their college’s student success agenda.

Since 2004, approximately 350 community colleges have participated in the National Community College Benchmark Project. This project collects data from participating institutions on a set of performance indicators that is made up of measures of student outcomes, institutional effectiveness, and community and workforce development.

Similar to the Benchmark Project, the Voluntary Framework of Accountability is AACC’s effort to identify a common set of measures of student success. So far, they have identified metrics in three areas: 1) Student Progress and Outcomes; 2) Workforce, Economic, and Community Development; and 3) Student Learning Outcomes.

Student Success Indicators

The Michigan Community College Association has considered these Benchmark indicators in its proposal to the State of Michigan (in response to a request from the Governor) for how the State can judge the performance of community colleges. MCCA proposed five indicators:

  1. Developmental Student Success in First College Level Course: Percent of students that were successful in the immediate prerequisite in developmental Math or English prior to the college-­‐level course in Math or English, then enrolled in and successfully completed the first college-­‐level course in Math or English.
  2. Fall to Next Term Persistence Rate: Percent of students that were enrolled in the first, fall term and are still enrolled in the next full academic term.
  3. College-­‐Level Course Completion: Percent of students that successfully complete college-­‐level courses.
  4. Successful Completion or Transfer: Percent of students successfully completing a degree, certificate, or licensure; or transferring to a baccalaureate-­‐granting institution after six years.
  5. Student Performance at Transfer Institutions: Cumulative first year Grade Point Average (GPA) for all transfer students at a state university.

The Study of How Community Colleges Organize for Student Success , a project of Achieving the Dream, is asking these questions:

  • What organizational structures and policies can be shown to improve student persistence, transfer and completion?
  • How do community colleges organize to support student success? What structures and policies do community colleges currently use?

Based on President Obama’s challenge to graduate five million more community college students by 2020, Harper College in Illinois has set a campus goal of 10,604. They calculated that this number is their share of the five million. That goal is known throughout the institution and administrators, faculty, staff, and students are asking themselves, “What do we have to do to reach 10,604?” It has become a way of focusing campus attention on student success.

More to come about community college student success in my next post.

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