Saturday, September 10, 2011

Federal Data System Used By CCC to Justify Reinvention Full of Holes

The journal Inside Higher Education reported that the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is full of gaps that give an incomplete picture of the performance of community colleges.  This is the same data system that the CCC administration used as its main source to declare the CCC system a failure, providing it with the cover to go ahead with the whirlwind of Reinvention. No wonder that, while the faculty and staff have worked hard for years to help students advance academically, they have felt betrayed and offended by the branding of their efforts as a failure.

As revealing as this report is, the comments entered by people from various colleges around the country provide an even deeper insight into how short IPEDS falls in reflecting the actual positive educational consequences of the work carried out by community colleges. We reproduced some of these comments below the article.


Success by Another Name

September 7, 2011
WASHINGTON – A committee tasked by the Education Department with strengthening how the government measures the success of community colleges last week issued its draft report of recommendations, which will be discussed here today at the committee's finalmeeting.
The 20-page report from the Committee on Measures of Student Success calls for community colleges and states to collect and disclose more information about graduation rates, student learning and employment. This reporting should include more voluntarily released data, the committee said, as well as more thorough compliance with current federal disclosure requirements.
“Measures of student success need to more accurately reflect the comprehensive mission of two-year institutions and the diversity of students that these institutions serve,” the report said. “For example, current graduation rates do not adequately reflect these institutions’ multiple missions and diverse populations.”
Key recommendations include a call for part-time, degree-seeking students at community colleges to be counted toward federally reported graduation and transfer rates (they currently are not), and for more precise counting of students who transfer out of community colleges, such as lateral transfers to other two-year institutions. The current federal rate counts only first-time, full-time students -- a population that excludes the majority of students at many community colleges and significant numbers of students at most community colleges.
Another recommendation of the panel is that the federal definition take better account of remedial students.
The 14-member panel, which includes community college leaders and independent higher education policy experts, had internal disagreements as it worked to finish the report in previous meetings, which were open to the public. Those debates reflected broader discussions over measuring quality at community colleges, with committee members from colleges pushing back on what they see as burdensome reporting requirements while policy researchers called for more complete data.
The report gives a nod to worries about more red tape, noting that the “need for more information must be balanced by an understanding of the potential administrative and financial burdens” of collecting such data. And in many instances the report calls for the Education Department to lend a helping hand or do most of the work itself.
For example, the committee says the department should offer technical support to community colleges to help them meet disclosure requirements. It should also seek improved coordination between existing national and state databases to improve a “fragmented, incomplete picture of student success.”
Comparable Measures
Community colleges face tremendous political pressure to increase their graduation rates and better measure academic quality, most notably from the Obama administration and the Lumina and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations. The colleges are also struggling with tight state budgets and, at most campuses, increasing enrollments.
The national graduation rate of community colleges, using current federal definitions, is 32 percent. But while community colleges are often criticized for this low number, the report said it is also a misleading, incomplete measure that does not account for the complex flow of students into and out of institutions.
The committee’s recommendations seek to create a fuller, more accurate view of graduation rates. That requires building upon data that are already reported by community colleges, according to the report, and the development of new and alternative methods of measuring student success.
Joshua Wyner of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, which is creating a list of what it considers top community colleges, praised the committee’s efforts. “We need comparable measures of student success to understand what is working on community college campuses,” Wyner said.
The institute has worked extensively with graduation rates and other data in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Wyner said the information from community colleges in the system can be “spotty,” with many institutions not entering accurate data about transfer rates. Better self-reporting is needed, Wyner said, and the committee’s report will help better define success at community colleges.
“We’ve had so little conversation about that in concrete ways,” he says.

Comments on Success by Another Name

  • what is success at a community college
  • Posted by Mary Scott , Professor Anatomy and Physiology at Labette Community College on September 7, 2011 at 8:15am EDT
  • I have heard this before and internally we have discussed trying to keep track of our students and encouraging them to leave here with a degree. However, the wide scope of the community college is being missed. How do you count the part-time students who may be retired or already have a degree but looking for enrichment? A 65 year old who comes to take an art class and creates beautiful work has no plans to seek an art degree. Yet, there has been a positive outcome. Workers come to take computer classes to upgrade skills. Some may eventually decide on a return to college; but yet again, a provided service is being ignored. Students do not like a local university's teachers and feel they get a stronger background here. So they drive 30-60 minutes to take chemistry or anatomy and physiology needed to apply for nursing programs and medical schools. Their successful graduation and reaching of terminal degrees is due in part to the community college. How are you going to credit that. My daughter worked as a workstudy one year in a local nursing school. She was shocked to find so many of the students recognized her and asked if I was her mother. A significant portion of the class had taken my A&P class although their first choice was a different nursing program. How do you give my college the credit for that?
  • A good idea, but not just for community colleges
  • Posted by LatinoProf on September 7, 2011 at 8:31am EDT
  • This report shows the weakness in the current IPEDS reporting, which counts only those students with no other college experience than the college in the report. Transfer students (a significant population at community colleges, and at for-profit and non-profit colleges and universities) are ignored by IPEDS. These recommendations should apply equally to all sectors of higher education, be they community colleges, public universities, for-profit colleges & unviersities or non-profit private colleges and universities.
  • Transfer Reporting is 4 year Responsibility, not CC
  • Posted by Dan Nannini , Transfer Center Director at Santa Monica College on September 7, 2011 at 12:30pm EDT
  • To share the reporting responsiblity as it relates to transfer, the receiving institution, not the transferring institution, should be charged with this information. Only then will you have a better idea of where students go and know what they are doing. And those reports need to be generated each term. And baccalaureatte recipients that have any community college units should be reported. Any institution receing federal funds should be required to provide this data. All of these data points will give a better measure on how community colleges contribute to degree advancement. We need to quit trying to define everything as "transfer" or "not transfer."
  • Success?
  • Posted by DocV on September 7, 2011 at 1:00pm EDT
  • @Mary Scott - I agree with you that a definition needs to be placed on "success" which in this case would primarily and simply be completion of a degree and gainful employment based on the education. Many of the students that you describe - the 65 year old..., the transient student, the student seeking to improve skills, etc. - would not be included because they would be counted as "non-degree seekers" or one-time/term only enrollees. This information is captured during the admission phase to help differentiate the students and to determine eligibility for federal funds.

    Essentially, your school would not get credit for these because (1) the student's intent is NOT to earn a degree; and (2) if they are enrolled at another college it should be counted in the home school's numbers so as not to double-count from both schools and skew the data.

    The goal appears to be to determine if the government is getting back what it pays for through federal funds and to make sure schools that are training students are creating an educated and stable workforce.

    If one accepts the goal of having "5 million more community college GRADUATES by the year 2020" the data must be collected to support this endeavor.
  • progress
  • Posted by arthur m cohen , emeritus professor of education at ucla on September 7, 2011 at 2:30pm EDT
  • Slowly, gradually, haltingly, the system moves toward understanding what the community colleges contribute to American education. This has been a decades-long process, and it's not over yet. But any progress is certainly welcome.
  • Funding is a complicating factor
  • Posted by John , Associate Professor, Higher Education at Widener University on September 7, 2011 at 4:45pm EDT
  • Funding may inadvertently contribute to the problem of which students to "count" for the purposes of success. Some community colleges, which are funded on an FTE basis of students enrolled in degree programs, are compelled to place all students in a program, regardless of the student's intent to graduate or transfer (the 65 year old example from above might be placed into an art program or liberal studies program). Colleges may be reluctant to have students in a non-degree or non-matriculated status since this may hurt their funding. Therefore, in some states, the funding formula for community colleges may need to change to enhance better accounting for "success".

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