Is Student Success Labeled Institutional Failure? Student Goals and Graduation Rates in the Accountability Debate at Community Colleges
Whether graduation rates accurately reflect community colleges' performance and the effectiveness of their policies, programs, and practices is sharply debated. College faculty, administrators, and supporters present four general reasons why the rates are misleading. First, many of the economic, social, and academic problems that confront community college students and thwart their retention and graduation are beyond the control of the colleges. Second, the Student Right-to-Know (SRK) institutional graduation rate, which all colleges are required to report to the Department of Education, is said to present a biased picture of college performance. Third, the fact that short-term occupational certificates and baccalaureate transfers are important components of community college completion complicate efforts to measure community college "graduation" rates. Fourth, many community college students are pursuing goals other than degrees. This Brief summarizes a Community College Research Center (CCRC) study primarily concerned with the last criticism. (Other CCRC publications address the other three criticisms.) Using national data, the study analyzed the extent to which community college students' reasons for enrolling and their educational goals and expectations influenced students' outcomes. Based on the findings, we present suggestions for how colleges should approach student goals and aspirations in seeking to improve student success.
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