Community College Students Succeed
A new study was recently released that addresses a common myth about community colleges. Data, about anything, is meant to tell a story. The data collected and reported by the federal government for many years has suggested that community colleges do not have sufficient student success. These data have systematically undercounted student success outcomes by providing only part of our story. Kevin Carey of The New York Times noted, “For the last few decades, the Department of Education has tracked graduation rates at colleges. Although a handful of elite colleges have graduation rates above 90 percent, many are below 50 percent—often, far below. But colleges have long complained that the federal rates are inaccurate. Back in 2008, Congress directed the department to study the matter.” Mr. Carey was a member of the appointed group, the Committee on Measures of Student Success.
The common measures used previously looked at only first-time, full-time students—those who start their college experience at the specific college or university and go full-time. This student is usually an 18-year-old right out of high school. While this measure works for residential, four-year institutions, who serve mostly recent high school graduates, it does not work at all well for community colleges. Carey writes that community colleges serve “adults, parents, people with full-time jobs, people returning to school after years away. They often enroll part-time, taking longer to graduate than the three years…. Many community college students also transfer to four-year colleges before finishing a degree—a good result, but one that wasn’t counted for graduation rates.” These students and their success have been unreported for years.
It has been suggested that students at our institutions graduated at a rate of 20 percent after three years. The numbers are dramatically different when national data add part-time and returning students, extend the time period to eight years, include students who transferred before graduation, and consider students still in college. The new completion rates added 1.5 million students to the count and brought the completion and transfer rate nationally to over 60 percent. (Specific college results can be viewed at: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/.)
At BCTC, these new data show that the combined completion and transfer rate for all full-time students over eight years (starting in 2008) changed from 52 percent to 74 percent with 1 percent still enrolled at the original college. The part-time all student success rate moved from 40 percent to 53 percent plus 3 percent still enrolled. The ability to go part-time or to receive credit for prior learning provide an important benefit to our community. Technical and career program students as well as transfer students may need to go part-time or need the flexibility of shorter sessions and online learning. The opportunity to start a bachelors pathway at BCTC saves families money, gets students a solid start with smaller classes and individual attention, addresses transitional academic needs, and helps students hone their career interests—even if they do not receive a degree before transferring.
Carey goes on to say, “The big picture shows that community colleges were unfairly tarred by the old graduation rates. The results produced by including all students—and by looking over the right time frame and accounting for transfers—suggest that many prospective undergraduates may benefit from giving their local community college another look when searching for an affordable path to a degree.” That is what we know and hear from our students all the time. While BCTC faculty and staff constantly strive to improve student outcomes, we know that many students would benefit from a start here. Check out what BCTC can do for you to move toward your educational goals!