The Completion Agenda – A New Report (Jan. 2013)

Posted on February 2, 2013. Filed under: Community Colleges, Completion Agenda, Higher Education |

(As I wrote that title, I wondered how many posts over the next few years I will be revisiting the topic – I think it might be often…).

A record number of students now attend college…but too few of them graduate. Improving college completion rates as an economic and moral imperative.  This is not news. But a new report, An Open Letter to College and University Leaders: College Completion Must Be Our Priority, helps provide some focus for what we can do.

The report summarizes a yearlong effort by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, an 18-member commission that includes presidents from every college sector. The mandate came from President Obama, who has challenged the nation to have the world’s highest proportion of people with college credentials by 2020.

The report starts from a position that community college leaders have been talking about for a few years now: community colleges are no longer about access but about success. “…Offering access without a commitment to help students complete their degrees is a hollow promise.” Indeed.

We know students need flexible schedules, more financial help, and an efficient remediation system that doesn’t discourage them so much that they drop out. But how do we do this?

Well, a start is to look at the colleges that have made progress and see if we can adapt their practices. For example:

  • looking at how many students we are graduating or helping to transfer and set specific goals for improvement
  • streamlining and accelerating remedial classes
  • using outside assessments to measure learning acquired outside the traditional classroom

The report also notes the challenges facing colleges today:

  • state support for higher education has dropped an average of 25% since 2008
  • the federal government measures college completion as receipt of a credential by first-time, full-time students; transfer students are treated as dropouts and part-time students are not counted at all

The commission who wrote the report ask us to look at three broad areas where reform is needed:

I. Changing campus culture to boost student success (Strategies include assigning ownership, implementing initiatives campus-wide, studying past mistakes, creating a student-centered culture, improving the academic experience, giving credit for previous learning, providing support services for non-traditional students, and investing in faculty development).

II. Improving Cost-effectiveness and quality (Strategies include offering flexibility to working adults, easing credit transfer, encouraging competency-based learning, delivering courses more efficiently, narrowing student choice to promote completion, and improving remedial services)

III. Making Better Use of Data to boost success (Strategies include pinpointing weaknesses in preparation, harnessing information technology to identify at-risk students, and communicating with students about progress to graduation)

The authors conclude with a recommendation for how to get on board with the completion agenda: the first step is to assess candidly our record of keeping and graduating students or helping them transfer successfully to another college.

At Mercer County Community College, we started this with our Foundations of Excellence self-study (2010-2012). Let’s keep the momentum going.


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