Why I care what Sandy Shugart has to say

Posted on February 10, 2013. Filed under: Community Colleges, Completion Agenda, Higher Education |

Sandy Shugart is the President of Valencia College, the winner of the 2011 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. I have read a lot about Valencia (and written about it in this blog before) and I think we can all learn from them.

This week Shugart wrote a column in Inside Higher Ed.com entitled Rethinking the Completion Agenda (Feb. 7, 2013).  In this column, he describes X principles to inform the work of the community college sector:

1. Be careful what and how you are measuring — it is sure to be misused.

Shugart warns that “completion” remains a largely undefined term – educators, administrators, the press, and the public might not have the same ideas. Current practice tracks first-time, full-time students, for example – and we know that that type of student is just one of the students we serve. If that student transfers after one year at the community college, she is considered a non-completer (ans she isn’t even considered in the measures followed by the receiving institution).  We need measures that include part-time students, early transfers, non-degree-seeking students, and more.

2. Measure for improvement.

3. College outcomes measures should be based on college-ready students

If we are really measuring improvement (see Principle #2), then we need to make that clear: including both students who came out of high school performing on college level and those who require some remedial preparation in one measure (e.g., first-time, full-time graduation rate) obscures the real opportunities for improvement. Shugart advocates reporting outcomes for developmental students (pre-college students) separately. (The performance of developmental completers is primarily a measure of developmental program performance, not the collegiate program).

4. Align accountability measures to the proper level of analysis.

We need informed policy makers who will understand the difference in accountability at the institutional, programmatic, and course levels.

5.   Performance measures should primarily be value-­added.

6.   Think educational ecosystem, not just institution.

As Shugart says, community college students are not experiencing us just as single institutions, but as ecosystems or networks of higher education institutions. They swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. This was not the norm back in the days when most faculty, administrators, and state and federal policy makers were college students ourselves. But is is the norm now so when policy makers talk about the outcomes of investing in higher education, we need to make sure the conversation is framed around the ecosystems.

7.  The most important person to care about completion is the student.

I have heard Shugart saying something like this before and I come back to it often: the college is what the students experience.

We need to give students a reason to graduate – like articulations with senior colleges (this feeds back into the ecosystem paradigm). We need to create pathways so that students can clearly navigate to their real goals.

Shugart’s final word on the Completion Agenda:

8.   Learning comes before completion.

If we are going to get more students to complete, we need to engage our faculty. As Shugart says, “Completion really doesn’t engage faculty. Learning does….The degree is a means to an end. Relevant, deep learning is the end.”

Shugart ends by offering some concrete suggestions to engage our state leaders, our accrediting bodies, our trustees and governors, our foundation partners, our institutions and our students in ecosystems thinking:

  • Add to the old model of articulation of credit the much more powerful model of intelligent design of degree pathways across institutional boundaries.
  • Within these pathways, encourage students to make earlier, more grounded choices of major long before transfer looms.
  • Require completion of the associates degree prior to transfer and provide a meaningful value proposition to students who do graduate before transfer – a guarantee, if you can.
  • Federate our data on student performance across institutional boundaries and develop ecosystem-­level research agendas with collaborating institutional research teams that will lead to improved student learning and performance.
  • Rethink the metrics used for measuring institutional performance as components of a larger ecosystem and develop measures of the larger ecosystem performance, as well.
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