Community College Completion Measured Differently by States

A new tool released by the College Board shows that states differ widely in how they track community college completion.
by | April 30, 2012

By Ben Wieder, Stateline Staff Writer

While state leaders generally agree it's important to increase the number of students who graduate from community colleges, a new tool released today (April 30) by the College Board shows that states differ widely in how they track community college completion.

A few measures are universal, often because they are required federally. Every state tracks enrollment and graduation rates within three years, for example. But only 10 states track completion within six years, which a report released with the tool suggests is a more accurate measure. Community college students often attend school part time, it often takes them longer for them to finish, meaning they might not be included in the graduation count. The completion measure also includes students who successfully transfer to four-year colleges before earning an associate degree.

"Oftentimes the only kind of metrics that are available are those applied at 4 year institutions," said Steve Handel, executive director of community college initiatives at the College Board.

Only 12 states track the job placement rates for students who have completed degrees or certificate programs, and 22 states don't track how many students take remedial courses before enrolling in college-level work. Virginia, North Carolina and California track the most indicators of community college completion, according to the report, while 15 states track fewer than 25 percent of the indicators included in the tool.

The report's authors hope that better data can help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of community colleges. President Obama has set a lofty goal of increasing the percent of adults with at least an associate's degree to 60 percent by 2020, a 50 percent increase from current levels. With community colleges accounting for two out of every five undergraduate students, increasing their completion rates would represent a large part of that target.

"These are the kinds of data that we hope will inform the discussion," Handel said.

The online tool takes community college data from a number of national and state-level sources and breaks them down by five areas ranging from enrollment to workforce preparation and employment outcomes. Handel said the data will be updated twice a year.

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