EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions for … Lumina Foundation’s Dewayne Matthews, on the Goal 2025 Campaign, Tracking Students, and the Changing Landscape of Community Colleges

The Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 campaign seeks to increase the percentage of American adults with college degrees to 60 percent. A new study finds that the percentage is inching upward, although it still hovers below 40 percent. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education is proposing revising how colleges and universities are evaluated,  so graduation rates would include students who attend part-time, as well as those who are returning to school. EWA spoke with Dewayne Matthews, Lumina’s vice president for policy and public strategy, about the federal policy changes, tracking student outcomes, and new perspectives on community colleges.

1. How might the revised federal formula bolster the Goal 2025 campaign?

The proposed changes have been a long time coming, and we’re very pleased. Important populations of students are not being counted, and this would be a step in the right direction. Right now, we don’t even know if students are finishing school. That’s something so basic, and without that answer it’s difficult to know what we’re doing right, and where we need to improve.

This is not the final answer to the data questions, but it is a good start. One of the other things the Education Department is working on, along with states and institutions, is how do you track students longitudinally, how do you follow cohorts of students, and finally – the big question – how do you use the data to improve the quality of services to students.

2. There are some surprising statistics in the Lumina report, including how many Americans have at least made an attempt to attend college. Is this group low-hanging fruit that should be getting more attention?

We know that 22 percent of the U.S. population has gone to college – that’s 37 million people, a huge number. They have some college credit, but they don’t have a degree. A llot of those students have enough credits for an associate’s degree, and some are well on their way to a bachelor’s degree. We need to bring those students back, and that’s something we’re working on with states and higher education institutions to do effectively.

3. The College Board Advocacy & Policy Center launched its “Completion Arch,” a digital database of the available statistics on community college outcomes at the state level. Ahead of the proposed federal changes, how useful is the data already available?

The state and institutional data systems continue to improve.  The model that’s emerging is one that links K-12, higher education, and workforce data together, so you can really see what’s happening as students move through system. Those efforts are ongoing, and they need to continue. They also need to accelerate, and the federal action will help to stimulate more attention to that work.

Higher education institutions need to get better at using data to improve performance. The best model of how to do that is Achieving the Dream [which Lumina co-founded ]. The program works with community colleges to better understand who their students are, what their needs are, and to act on that information. The goal is to create what we call a culture of evidence, where the institution is really focused on the success of students.

4. A report on the first five years of Achieving the Dream (2004-09) showed that even though the participating community colleges overhauled their practices, student outcomes in core English and math classes remained unchanged. What can be learned from those findings, and how is the initiative responding?

There’s a very strong belief that these interventions will lead to improved student outcomes. There’s a great desire to see that effect and continue to work until you get the effect. There’s no other credible reason why it wouldn’t produce student outcomes. It’s a slow process and will take time. It’s all about looking at the data and trying to modify the approach until you can see something is working.

At the time that Achieving the Dream started, it was somewhat controversial. Community colleges weren’t really focused on student success. The goals were access and participation, and it was assumed the outcomes would take care of themselves. Over the past few years, the idea that success is tangible and real—and  that community colleges share responsibility with the student to see that it happens—has become a legitimate movement. The community college community has rallied and kept Achieving the Dream going, and seen the value of it.

5. There have been a number of high-profile protests at community colleges (including protestors being pepper-sprayed in Santa Monica) with students upset about tuition hikes and proposals that would create tiers of accessibility to the most popular classes. How does this play against the community college’s traditional role as the open-access point to higher education?

Clearly these protests reflect a deep-seated anxiety that people have about their future. It’s not just in the U.S., it’s all over the world. There are protests in Spain, and Chile, and France with students upset about tuition and costs. In Santa Monica, the college is dealing with an incredibly difficult financial situation and trying to find ways to generate the resources they need to respond to the needs of their students. The protest was directed at the board, but also at the state.

There’s a tension between access and success, and that’s a false dichotomy. The students that are moving forward should have access to classes, good advising and counseling, and the financial support to complete as quickly as possible. It’s in their interest and the in the national interest to see that happens.

That doesn’t mean that students who are exploring their educational options should be excluded or turned away. But they should be encouraged as well as to explore for as short a time as possible to figure out what they need.


This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.