New scorecards show challenges for state’s community colleges

Students who start community college prepared to take college-level courses have a better than 70 percent chance of earning a degree or certificate or transferring to a four-year college within six years. The outcome is significantly worse for students placed in remedial math or science, with barely 41 percent achieving those goals, according to the first-ever student success scorecards released Tuesday by the systemwide chancellor’s office.
2013 Statewide Student Success Scorecard. Source: California Community College Chancellor’s Office. (Click to enlarge).The scorecards provide in-depth information for each of the state’s 112 community colleges including student demographics, completion rates, career technical education, and indicators of likely success, such as the percentage of students who completed 30 units after six years.
“The scorecard is probably a historic tool for the community colleges,” said Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, during a telephone call with reporters. “What is critically important about the scorecard is that the groups of students can be subdivided in almost any way so that very specific strategies can be used to insure their improvement.”
Boosting success rates is critical in the current economy, said state Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, because “by 2018, two-thirds of the jobs in California will require some level of education beyond high school.”
The scorecards grew out of the community college Student Success Task Force, whose 22 recommendations were approved by the systemwide Board of Governors last year. Several months later, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012, which, among other things, put the scorecards into statute.
Some of this data is already available; community colleges know their remediation rates and the consequences for students who have to spend several semesters just to catch up to college-level math or English.  But the scorecards provide more robust and refined data, said Harris, allowing schools to do deeper analyses.
“These data make it much clearer to the colleges and easier for us to get our arms around what the problems are, and we also think it’s going to help us in making a case to the Legislature and the public in general about the challenges that are faced by the students at our colleges,” Harris said.
At Kern Community College District, Chancellor Sandra Serrano said the data show that students who attend school part-time because they have to work are less likely to make it through college. That tells her that the district has to make it a priority to let students know about financial aid so they can encourage more of them to enroll full time.  “That is the benefit of having this kind of information that disaggregates information,” said Serrano.
Nancy Shulock, executive director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Sacramento State University, who served on the Student Success Task Force, said the scorecard will give researchers, like herself, access to more information that could show “where students may get stalled and which students get stalled” on the path to earning a degree or certificate or transferring.
Though most of the data is public, the most detailed information containing the individual records used to create the metrics is only available to the campuses so they can do further and deeper analysis.  Shulock also said the transparency of the scorecards will help prospective students and their families consider which college to attend, but cautioned against using them to compare schools.  “There are vast differences across colleges in student preparation, income, etc., and it is not always meaningful or helpful to compare colleges that enroll very different student bodies,” Shulock explained.
Five-year community college completion rates. Source: California Community College Chancellor’s Office. (Click to enlarge).Harris echoed that warning. The purpose isn’t to line up the colleges against each other, he said, but “for individual colleges to benchmark themselves and improve over time.
Results have been going in the opposite direction recently. A comparison of completion rates over five years from the 2002-2003 academic year to 2006-2007 (see chart), shows a decline for every subgroup broken out by gender, age, ethnicity, and race.  Harris said this should come as no surprise given that community colleges cut course offerings by about 20 percent after seeing budget cuts of nearly a billion dollars in recent years. “It’s no secret to anybody that these have been five of the most stressful years California community colleges have experienced in decades,” he said.

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