Support Legislation that Generates Comprehensive Student Achievement Data and Improves Federal Graduation Rate Measurements
Despite many efforts, federal data sources still do not provide comprehensive, relevant information to help prospective college students choose the institution and program that best suits them. In particular, the data do not accurately reflect community college performance. To remedy this, Congress should: (1) create a comprehensive, student-centered data system and (2) establish graduation rate measurements that are calibrated to the community college student population.
Generate Comprehensive Data on the Performance of Colleges Based on a Unit Record Data System
Legislation to create a federal postsecondary education unit record data system, the College Transparency Act (S. 1121, H.R. 2434), has been introduced on a bipartisan basis by members of both the Senate HELP and House Education and the Workforce Committees. The legislation would create a unit record data system, which is essential to providing an accurate account of higher education institutional performance.
The information collected by the federal government should place a priority on privacy controls and be strictly limited to essential elements. These principles are reflected in the legislation.
Community colleges have a particular stake in this proposed legislation. One reason is their role in transfer preparation. The College Transparency Act would allow student transfers to be captured on a comprehensive, national basis, which is not currently undertaken. Equally importantly, the legislation would allow students and institutions to know how college completers fare in the job market. Students consistently state that their primary reason for attending college is employment-related. The absence of information on this key outcome undermines the ability of students to make appropriate choices about which institution, program, and credential to pursue.
The legislation would also ultimately save money for institutions, and, by extension, students. The federal data collection and disclosure framework created by this legislation would eliminate the need for numerous overlapping state, private, and institutional collection efforts. Its comprehensive nature would foster a variety of efficiencies.
All members of Congress are urged to support this key legislation.
Make Graduation Rates Reflective of Community College Success—Support S. 351 and Urge Sponsorship of Companion House Legislation
Colleges currently report a number of graduation rates to the federal government. However, they fall short in reflecting the performance of community colleges. Fortunately, the measurement shortcomings of federal policy are effectively addressed in legislation introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), the Comprehensive Student Achievement Information Act, S.351. This bill would provide relevant completion rate metrics for students enrolled in programs of two years or less in length. This legislation would: consolidate and rationalize existing federal completion rate calculations, thereby leading to a comprehensive and nuanced account of institutional performance; establish completion timeframes that reflect student enrollment patterns in different length programs; and allow prospective students and families to more easily determine which institution is likely to serve them most effectively.
Community colleges particularly commend a new federal graduation rate calculated at 300% of the “normal time” to complete for most community college programs (i.e., those that are two or fewer years in length). Each year, tens of thousands of community college students who receive degrees or certificates and other credentials are classified as “drop-outs” by the federal government because they do not complete their studies within the current timeframes provided by the Higher Education Act (HEA). The fact is that older, working students often take longer to complete their programs—but they usually do complete them.
S. 351 also retains key existing measurements, allowing relevant comparisons to be made about changes in institutional performance. The 300% completion rate yardstick in S. 351 is consistent with that used by community colleges in their own quality improvement and assessment initiative, the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA).
Senators are urged to communicate their support for S. 351 to Sen. Hatch. Representatives are urged to support similar legislation. The ultimate goal is to include S. 351 in the HEA reauthorization or other vehicle.
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