EdMedia Commons Archive

Should Different Measurements Be Used to Calculate Community College Grad Rates?

A community college president has strong words aimed at those who rely on college graduation rates to gauge the success of community colleges. Writing a no-holds-barred column in The Community College Times, John Sbrega, president of Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, explains college graduation rates rarely apply to community colleges, since the index applies to new students and those with full-time course loads. Most community college students have full- or part-time jobs, and standards used to rate four-year institutions shouldn’t apply to community colleges, Sbrega writes. Instead, they should be ranked according to the following criteria: 

  • Isn’t it more accurate to consider “student persistence” and “student success” in gauging the effectiveness of our institutions?
  • In addition, some of our students for personal reasons—employment schedules, child/spouse/parent care, health, finances—reduce their course load below full-time status. These students continue to persist in their academic pursuits for their degrees. Whether they earn more than 30 credits (the half-way mark to an associate degree) or less, they continue on track despite formidable personal circumstances. Aren’t they to be commended?

Sec. Arne Duncan has proposed a new series of measurements to determine whether community colleges are serving their students. After outlining those rules, Sbrega writes, his school’s graduation rate jumps to nearly 80 percent from 19 percent when using the current model. 

He adds: 

Why do some influential voices continue to carp about community college graduation rates? Their fixation leads me to wonder about their motivation. Instead of celebrating the ability of students to use community college flexibility to fit higher education into their lives, these uninformed critics use our flexibility against us.

What do you think? Is Sbrega right to feel sensitive about criticism aimed at community colleges?

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