Student Success Scorecard: Our View

May 2nd, 2013

May 2, 2103 | Written by: Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director, Campaign for College Opportunity

The California Community Colleges system last month took a major step in institutional transparency by making public voluminous data on the number of students who complete a certificate, degree or transfer to a four-year university.

The new data is a welcome development and provides a tremendous tool for understanding the dynamics of student success in terms of gender, race, age and preparation level. The data offers insights into students who succeed and complete certificates, degrees or transfer and those who fall by the way side.

The issue of college completion is important especially because there is a wide gap in the workforce between education levels that employers are demanding and the number of students who have the necessary education. If current trends persist, California will be one million baccalaureate graduates short of meeting the needs of employers by 2025. When vocational certificate and associate degree graduates are added in, the number grows to 2.3 million.

The state stands to reap an economic benefit for an educated populace. Increased tax revenues are realized when individuals earn higher salaries while state expenditures go down when individuals rely less on social services.

The overall results of these campus “score cards,” unfortunately, were disappointing – only 49% of students intending to graduate did so within six years. But that was not a surprise. For some time we have known that our community colleges are not producing degrees and transfers at an acceptable rate. By some measures, only a third of students are meeting the completion goal.

In releasing the data, California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris noted that the figures for individual campuses reflect their location and the nature of the student bodies, and we agree that there are many variables that make one-on-one comparisons questionable. The Chancellor also noted the enormous budget cuts the system has suffered in recent years as among the primary reasons for declining completion rates. And we agree with that too.

But our research, and best practices at some community colleges, have shown that the California system can do a better job of helping students achieve a certificate, degree or transfer within a reasonable amount of time — and certainly in less than the six years.

There are critical reforms that can be instituted now — without any additional funding — that can make a difference in student success. California Community Colleges are actively pursuing some of these.

One of the reforms is completing adoption of SB 1440, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform (STAR) Act, which called upon the community colleges and California State University (CSU) systems to develop a uniform Associate Degree for Transfer program. Students would earn degrees more quickly and transfer with fewer impediments, and colleges and universities would save an estimated $160 million annually through more efficient use of resources.

Another is in funding mechanisms to create incentives for colleges to promote completion. Incentive funding programs are increasingly being adopted around the country, and a modified formula is needed in California to reward both student access and success. Incentive funding could help accelerate the number of students in remedial education into college level courses, provide needed student support services, and reward colleges for increasing the number of students who complete a certificate, degree or transfer.

Community college students also require a clearer pathway to help them achieve their goals. Many students are low income and/or first in their family to go to college and need support. Community college students, for instance, have less access to counseling, planning and orientation than students at the CSU and University of California (UC) level. Improving these services will have an enormous impact on community college completion rates. The Student Success Task Force Recommendations adopted last year and being implemented statewide will also help.

Ensuring more community college students access existing federal and state financial aid would be a tremendous boost in helping them be able to afford college and complete it. The Governor’s proposal to require FAFSA completion for community colleges students is a good step in that direction.

And the passage of Proposition 30 last fall will restore some funding after years of devastating cuts.

We understand the challenges of educating community college students, many of whom require remedial education and have few role models and mentors to help them navigate college.

But this just makes reform and new, fresh ideas all the more necessary. Last month’s data is a wake up call for what needs to be done, and it can and should be done now.

About the Author:

Michele Siqueiros is the Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

To read her complete bio, click here. Follow her on Twitter @MSCollegeOpp