FROM THE PRESIDENT: Painting a Clearer Picture
This article first appeared in the AACC’s Community College Journal.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
This statement sums up how community colleges and technical institutions currently tell their completion and attainment stories.
The national measurements — excluding those that community colleges and technical schools produce — look at completion from a traditional four-year perspective. Community colleges need better data and success definitions to create narratives based on actual student pathways and outcomes.
Community colleges need better data and success definitions to create narratives based on actual student pathways and outcomes.
Higher-education learners can take at least four different pathways, which include the following:
- Traditional academic pathways lead to degrees and certificates from accredited institutions. Historically, community college contributions have been understated in this pathway. According to a recent National Student Clearinghouse Snapshot Report, 45 percent of baccalaureate-degree recipients had some community college education. Four-year completion rates can be affected by reverse transfers and by part-time and summer community college enrollment. The National Student Clearinghouse’s Signature Report 8 looked at completion data eight years out from first enrollment and included transfer behavior. It found an 18 percent increase between six- and eight-year completion rates
- Vocational and high-tech career pathways are best defined by the continuum of skill development. A lifelong learning model goes from basic skill attainment to upskilling to achieving levels of mastery and proficiency. Credentials are often awarded based on experiential and classroom learning, apprenticeships and testing. According to the California Community Colleges System (CCCS), one-third of CCCS students — classified as skill builders — take between one and six courses to increase their wages and earn a credential. Community colleges and state longitudinal data systems do not routinely capture these noncompleter outcomes, although they are a large part of the community college completion fabric. The Workforce Credentials Coalition is trying to track these outcomes for a better understanding of community college completions.
- Continuing adult- and professional-education pathways are increasingly relevant. Often this education is paid for by an industry that keeps data on employee attendance and completion private. Continuing adult and professional education is often not part of a credit-bearing curriculum, although these programs are integral to understanding the workforce-related roles that community colleges play. Though federal dollars may or may not be spent on this education, the completion story of community and technical colleges is incomplete without it.
- Remediation pathways lead to one of the above pathways. Up to 85 percent of some community college student populations are in remedial programs. Students’ movement through these programs is another important part of the community college success story. Remediation efforts beginning as early as 10th grade are proving effective, as discussed recently at a daylong meeting of college and K-12 leaders, co-sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the American Association of School Administrators.
Efforts like AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability can help highlight the data sets needed to tell a more complete story. Data can continually measure the evolution of major pathways to determine how well they deliver on student aspirations. Community college leaders and policymakers must continue to discuss and decide what should be measured, how data can be aggregated, and which benchmarks identify what successful pathways look like.
Ricardo (Rick) Torres
President & CEO
National Student Clearinghouse