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Student Success Scorecard: A Researcher's Perspective

April 11, 2013 | Written by: Colleen Moore, Research Program Specialist, Institute for Higher Education, Leadership and Policy at California State University, Sacramento

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Since the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) opened in 2001, a substantial share of our work has focused on student success in the California Community Colleges (CCC) – how to measure it and how policy can be changed to improve student outcomes. We have pointed out the shortcomings of the CCC’s efforts to measure student success in its annual Accountability Reporting for Community Colleges (ARCC) report. Too many of the measures were simple counts of activities (e.g., number of transfers) rather than rates of success. The primary success rate, the Student Progress and Attainment Rate (SPAR), excluded too many students. The data were not disaggregated for sub-populations of students, and the considerable length (800+ pages) of the ARCC report limited its value as a basis for policy discussion.

This week the CCC Chancellor’s Office released a new accountability tool, the Student Success Scorecard, that addresses many of these shortcomings:

  • Outcomes are reported for more CCC students. It is important to monitor outcomes for the students you want to help succeed. Owing to a very narrow definition of “degree seeking” used in the ARCC report’s SPAR, outcomes for only 40% of entering students were reported. The new approach captures over half of entering students, allowing colleges to learn more about where degree-seeking students may be getting stalled. Some additional students are included in a new completion rate for those enrolled in career technical education programs.
  • Milestone measures are improved. Several metrics allow colleges to monitor progress in reaching milestones to understand where students may get stalled along the way. These include measures of persistence (continuous enrollment over three consecutive terms) and of completing 30 credits, and the portion of students who initially enroll in a remedial English or math course who complete a college-level course in those subjects.
  • Data are disaggregated. Closing the gaps in educational achievement is essential to ensuring the state’s social and economic health, as is improving outcomes for the majority of CCC students who enter college academically under-prepared. The breakdowns by race/ethnicity, age, gender, and college readiness included in the Scorecard will help colleges identify these gaps and take steps to reduce them.
  • Additional layers of data allow for more analysis. The CCC’s online Datamart will be expanded to allow for cross-tabulation of the scorecard metrics (e.g., by gender within race), and a Data-on-Demand system will make even more detailed data accessible to researchers at the colleges to facilitate additional analyses aimed at institutional improvement.

There is not one “right” way to measure success for community colleges given their multiple missions and the complexity of their students’ lives. Improvements could likely still be made, including collecting better data on students’ goals so their progress can be tracked with respect to those goals. But the CCC deserves credit for putting forward the most transparent accountability system we have seen, and for providing their colleges with a tool to support their continued efforts to improve student success. 

To see the scorecard click here.

About the Author:

Colleen Moore is a Research Specialist at the Institute for Higher Education, Leadership and Policy at California State University, Sacramento where she designs and conducts policy-relevant research on higher education issues related to the Institute’s agenda. She has nearly 20 years of experience conducting research for use by policy makers, most recently on topics related to community college student success, higher education enrollment, finance policy, and accountability.

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