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Community Colleges

Grading States

Report reveals low completion rates at two-year colleges
University Business, July/August 2012

Here’s some seemingly daunting news for community colleges: South Dakota is the only state with a two-year college completion rate over 40 percent. That stat is from a new report released by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. North Dakota comes in second for two-year college completion rates, with 38 percent. And Florida, Utah, and Vermont are the only others with a completion rate higher than 35 percent, according to the third edition of the ICW’s Leaders & Laggards Series, “A State-by-State Report Card on Public Postsecondary Education” released in June.

The report identifies the best and worst performing states in public postsecondary education based on student access and success, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, meeting labor market demand, transparency and accountability, policy environment, and innovation. The ICW identified these as the important factors being watched by policymakers, business leaders, and concerned citizens.

Overall, the report shows North Dakota and South Dakota as the two-year “leaders” and Alaska, Nevada, and New Mexico as the “laggards.” But, because the report uses graduation rates as a measure, which doesn’t include students who transfer (in some states as many as 70 percent) or those who are enrolled part time (58 percent nationwide), it could be presenting a misleading image of the nation’s community colleges, shares Christopher M. Mullin, program director for policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

In fact, the Department of Education’s congressionally-mandated Committee on Measures of Student Success found that “although federal graduation rates provide important and comparable data across institutional sectors, limitations in the data understate the success of students enrolled at two-year institutions and can be misleading to the public.”

“It doesn’t portray an accurate picture of what’s happening on our college campuses in a way that can help improve student
success,” points out Mullin.

The analysis also doesn’t take into account that, in many states, the two-year colleges take on different missions. Some are more certificate-granting and workforce oriented, while others are more transfer oriented. “When that information is left out, the data is misleading,” says Mullin.