It is important for Harold Washington College to collect and analyze student data that will better assist student persistence to graduation. For example, the accuracy of career and technical declared major data is critical to track students through coursework to graduation. Use of online degree audit systems provides accurate data to student services personnel, program faculty, and students. . . . The process for improving graduation rates is multi-faceted, and will take time and concentrated effort to measure progress.
The discussion of completion has been fruitful. I agree that we should use multiple measures. We are an accredited institution, and several faculty members have justifiably highlighted our last review, where the Higher Learning Commission recommended our next review in ten years, or 2018-2019.
I decided to consult the review for guidance on what we may face in seven years time regarding measures of student success. The write-up was illuminating. As always, I welcome your thoughtful comments.
From the “Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit to Harold Washington College” for the Higher Learning Commission, dated March 2 – 4, 2009.
Topic Four: Improving Graduation Rates
Harold Washington College staff identified the relatively low graduation rate as an area upon which to focus consultative advice in the Advancement Section of the team report. Indeed the 4% graduation yearly rates is among the lowest in the country for community colleges. HWC appropriately identified numerous other student success measures that contribute to student outcomes, as all community colleges contend (rightly so) that graduation rates are not a significant indicator of success, as a large percentage of of students do not enter community colleges with the intent to graduate. Yet increasingly, federal and state reporting requirements and accreditation bodies require documentation of graduation rates, as well as course and program retention rates, semester to semester and yearly persistence rates, and transfer success rates. Consequently, HWC must become more focused on collecting data that describes student success, with an emphasis on improving graduation rates. [emphasis mine]
In order to adequately address the multi-faceted issue of improving the number of students to graduate, there must be a comprehensive effort across the college to improve this measure of student success. A plan for graduation improvement should be crafted that examines impediments to student graduation and a call to action to increase student graduation rates. Once completed, the president could call a ‘graduation summit day’ where the entire college convenes to focus on the effort to improve graduation rates. Programs, both career/technical and the liberal arts, should be challenged and held accountable to increase the graduation rate by an identified percentage over a 3 to 5 year period. Programs that meet or exceed the goals should be rewarded; programs that don’t should be required to develop additional strategies for improvement.
A marketing campaign about the value of graduating from HWC should be launched that informs students about the benefit of holding a HWC diploma or degree. It would be very valuable to forge partnerships with baccalaureate institutions to garner support for the mechanisms to foster graduation at the associate degree prior to transfer. Some universities will work with community colleges to retroactively award an associates degree students that transfer a certain number of credits short of the earned degree. Once the student pleads the credits, the university registrar will transfer the credits back to the community college, and the student is awarded the associates degree. While the attainment of an associates degree is not necessarily important to the student at the time, it is valuable to demonstrate that through a combination of the community college and the baccalaureate degree institution, the student did obtain the associates degree credential, also providing the student documentation of degree obtainment in the event that a baccalaureate degree is not completed.