Monday, October 12, 2009

Systems for Tracking Community College Outcomes: Process Measures Needed

Community college system administrators are testing data-based accountability systems that track how successfully students are graduating, transferring to 4-year schools, and obtaining workforce certificates. These systems represent an attempt to track outcomes, which is needed because the proportion of Americans obtaining college degrees has fallen from first to 13th place in the world. About 45% of U.S. post-secondary students attend community college, but past research indicates that only one in 10 actually complete their degree within 3 years. To change this picture, many states (e.g., Ohio) have experimented with aligning their traditional funding approach away from enrollment to program completion. To support these efforts, states have databases tracking outcomes. There is interest in improving early warning signs so community colleges can intervene to improve outcomes. For example, Oregon tracks graduation and program completion rates, but leaders also say they need process data that tracks early indicators of the proportion of students on target for program completion. Oregon's system outline can be found here. In reviewing the process data, the focus remains on courses that students take or do not take, and not so much on learning indicators. Another approach receiving much study is to reward students for making progress toward degree completion and maintaining a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA. See the MDRC reports here.

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