New IPEDS Outcomes Measures Have Important Implications for Community Colleges
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has just released aggregate data on four new Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Survey (IPEDS) outcomes measures (OM). This represents major progress on a central component of the community college public policy agenda. AACC has long asserted that the IPEDS graduation rates survey badly misrepresented community colleges and their students since it only included first-time, full time students, and primarily measured student completion through a 150% of the “normal time” completion metric, while eschewing transfers. The new outcome measures include all community college credit students and tracks them for eight years. It also includes transfers-out, though not in the combined form that AACC supports.
The new data, which is displayed for each institution on the ED College Navigator, represent the culmination of many months of work by AACC and its members. The process began before the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, when, largely at AACC’s behest, Congress established the Committee on Measures of Student Success (CMSS). The CMSS was charged with reviewing the applicability to community colleges of prevailing federal completion rate metrics and related reporting burdens. Its recommendations are largely reflected in the OMs.
AACC research staff has provided the following table on the aggregate outcomes measures of community colleges (the data include community colleges that offer bachelor degrees.) The news is mostly good, but not all good. By tracking students for eight years, far more full-time community college students are shown to have completed their programs, which helps place the colleges in a more realistic and favorable light. It is also encouraging to see that, across higher education, non-first-time students, many of whom start at community colleges, complete at higher rates than first-time students.
Eight-year Outcomes, Public Community Colleges (includes Baccalaureate Granting community colleges)
|Cohort Type (Fall 2008)||Adjusted Cohort 2008||Earned award (degree/certificate)||Still enrolled at your institution||Transferred (no award)||No award, no transfer, status unknown|
|Total Entering Students||1,823,351||499,347||27.4%||36,556||2.0%||596,963||32.7%||690,485||37.9%|
|Source: AACC analysis of IPEDS Outcomes Measures data file.|
However, and not surprisingly, the completion rates of part-time students are lower, particularly for the part-time, first time cohort. Community college leaders across the country will need to place these rates into context as some will seek to use this new data to disparage community college performance.
The OM are less comprehensive and granular than those employed by the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA). The OM do not separate out the type of credential that a student achieves (i.e., certificate or degree). Transfers are also handled differently—students who complete a community college credential and subsequently transfer are not included.
The new outcomes measures also include the completion rates of Pell Grant recipients, a longtime Congressional priority. However essential Pell Grants are to student access and success, they alone cannot eradicate the educational deficits and other challenges that less affluent students often face. It is therefore not surprising that Pell Grant recipients do not attain at the same levels as more affluent individuals.
AACC continues to work aggressively to ensure that federal data collection, measurement, and disclosure policies adequately reflect community colleges. In the context of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), AACC has secured Senate introduction of legislation (S. 351) that embodies in federal law the six-year graduation rate included in the VFA, and we are optimistic that a companion House bill will be introduced soon. AACC is also strongly advocating for the “College Transparency Act” (S. 1121 and H.R. 2434), which would create a national postsecondary unit record data system (URDS). Such a system is long overdue; it would both produce more comprehensive data and reduce overall administrative burden. Powerful forces in Congress staunchly oppose the URDS but it also has a great deal of bicameral, bipartisan support, and the case for it is more compelling than ever. AACC also believes that the URDS should be linked to earnings data, by program. The aforementioned legislation includes this requirement.
In the meantime, the IPEDS system will be used to report data on enrollments and completions, and AACC will work to make them as relevant and accessible as possible. The association is also focused on ensuring that the public, most importantly prospective students, has access to these and similar data.
Please contact David Baime, AACC Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Policy Analysis, email@example.com, or Kent Phillippe, Associate Vice President for Research and Student Success firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions or related comments.