Led by CCRC Director Thomas Bailey, Committee Submits Report Urging Federal Government to Change How It Measures Community College Success

Thomas Bailey press photo
Present at a December 12 meeting were (from left) Archie Cubarrubia, Designated Federal Official for the Committee on Measures of Student Success; Thomas Bailey, CCRC Director and Committee Chair; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; and Jack Buckley, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

NEW YORK, January 5, 2012 — A committee chaired by Thomas Bailey, George and Abby O'Neill Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College and director of the Community College Research Center, has submitted a report to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urging the federal government to make major changes in how it tracks community college success and productivity.

The 15-member Committee on Measures of Student Success was created in the wake of the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which required that two-year colleges report their completion rates to the federal government. College officials pushed for the inclusion of more comprehensive measures of student success, arguing that the required measures alone did not accurately reflect the achievements of the populations they served.

Currently, the federal government gauges community college performance by calculating the percentage of first-time, full-time students that complete a degree or certificate in three or four years. By this measure, only 37% of community college students complete their postsecondary education within four years. However, as the committee’s report indicates, the measure does not accurately capture the outcomes of the many two-year college students who attend part-time, take longer than four years to complete a degree, or transfer or re-enter the workforce without obtaining a community college degree. In addition, community colleges are open-access institutions and admit many students who need remediation, which lengthens their time to a degree. As a result, the measures currently in place give a distorted picture of student success at many two-year colleges, adversely affecting funding levels and public support.

The committee, which spent a year studying how best to evaluate success in two-year colleges, recommends several alternative measures and changes in data collection to yield a more nuanced depiction of how well these institutions are achieving their mission. The report urges the Department of Education to include students who transfer to a four-year college without a degree as well as those who earn a community college credential in their calculation of student success rates. It also recommends that colleges report graduation rates for distinct student cohorts, including part-time students, students who require remediation, and students receiving financial aid.

The report recommends that employment and learning outcomes be included as additional measures of college success. It proposes that the Department of Education provide incentives to states and colleges to improve access to student earnings data; it also proposes that colleges make public the measures of student learning that they already report to accreditors or other agencies. Finally, the report urges the creation of a federal “unit-record” database that would link student data from state to state and from college to careers, in order to make it easier for colleges and lawmakers to track long-term educational and employment outcomes for two-year college students.

Bailey described the report as the midpoint of a long road. “Our recommendations represent a significant improvement over the current system, but more work is needed to improve the accuracy and usefulness of student success measures,” he said.

The Education Department has stated that it will create a plan based on the committee’s recommendations in early 2012.