A Sharper Measure of Graduation Rates

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Efforts to make community colleges more accountable for the academic success of their students has led to a national change in the way data is collected.

College retention and graduation rates have historically focused on first-time, full-time students, who tend to be dominant at four-year institutions. Those students make up a small fraction of the population at community colleges, yet for years the most commonly used measure was the percentage of such students who earned a associate’s degree or certificate within three years. The federal government still only tracks that measure, which doesn’t capture community colleges’ many part-time and transfer students.

College officials object to the metric, and new measurements that include all types of students have arisen.

Two examples are the Student Achievement Measure, a voluntary reporting system that casts a wider net on tracking a student’s academic results, and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University.

The Student Achievement Measure uses data that tracks graduation rates of part-time and full-time students and accounts for students transferring in or out. Rose State College and Tulsa Community College are the only Oklahoma community colleges that now participate.

The broader Student Achievement Measure puts graduation rates for TCC and Rose State at 15 percent and 23 percent, respectively, meaning those percentages of entering students earned an associate’s degree or a certificate within three years. Regents data, which reflects only first-time, full-time students, puts TCC’s graduation rate at 12 percent and Rose State’s at 10 percent.