Friday, April 27, 2012

Can you see me now?

You can’t measure what you can’t see best sums up the government's view on community college graduation rates and is at the core of the report and action plan released two weeks ago.
According to the report, about 37 percent of full-time, first-time students receive a degree or certificate within four years of beginning their studies. “Not all students take a linear path in their pursuit of higher education,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Many students work full-time and are balancing family obligations while also attending school. These new outcome measures will accurately demonstrate how postsecondary schools are preparing students for success in different ways.”

These changes to reporting may increase the bureaucratic requirements of institutions like Linn Benton Community College, but they may also open up additional avenues for funding and will give accrediting and ratings agencies a better idea of how well a given institution is performing.

LBCC is already collecting some of this information for in house policy analysis, the Department of Institutional Research has information on gainful employment, follow ups with recent graduates, and studies on debt to employment ratios, up to this point the Department of Education(DOE) only required information on first time, full time students. 

According to Bruce Clemetsen, the Vice President of Student services here at LBCC, roughly 50% of the students at LBCC are full time, but many of those students are here because of the relationship with OSU and are not counted for Linn Benton’s official graduation statistics.

Under the old rules almost half of LBCC students were not counted, regardless of whether or not they graduated. In fact students who start at Linn Benton community college but then transfered to a 4 year institution or another community college were not counted in the statistics for LBCC. All of this leads to a very fragmented and incomplete picture being sent back to the DOE. 
These changes in rerpoting will enable LBCC and other community colleges to show off their community programs, that are invaluable to locals, but have up to this point not counted in the official statistics.
One such program here at LBCC is the Waste Water treatment program, after speaking with industry LBCC learned, according to Bruce Clemetsen, that water treatment plants tend to be public utilities and that industry needed more workers who have education in not just water treatment, but also public works. 
As a consequence, next year the Waste Water treatment program will be rolled into an entry level Public Works degree with Waste Water treatment as a certification within the overall degree plan. This adds flexibility to the degree program while meeting an industry and community need.  
Through LBCC connections with local industry, this program has morphed into a much more successful and adaptive degree. This program, and others like it, represent the kinds of innovations that community colleges can bring to the educational market place. By listening to not just the students, but to industry, colleges can provide a better service for students and also for the larger community. But if the DOE isn’t looking, it won’t know it, which is what makes these rules changes so important. By looking at non-traditional students, non-full time students, and students who didn’t start at the “beginning of the year”, the DOE, will be able to see the value that community colleges are bringing not just to their communities, but to the nation as a whole by providing the skills and training necessary to fulfill the demands of an ever changing marketplace.
These changes to rules may also have the unintended beneficial consequence of facilitating additional relationships like the one that LBCC has with Chemeketa community college and will help to prevent overlap and redundancy in the educational market. Due to budget cuts certain programs have had to either be curtailed or cut back, in order to ensure that the community’s needs were met. LBCC reached out to Chemeketa community college and convinced them to offer EMT training in this area, in return LBCC sold them their existing equipment and made the arrangements to have Chemeketa teach the programs here as well. This way resources are freed up for LBCC to teach other valuable programs while also ensuring that the communities need were still met. 

Like with all things there is a tension between spending money on committees and research groups to parse the schools data and the need to spend that money on actual education. 
Hopefully, these changes in reporting will strike a balance that benefits all parties involved while fostering an environment that will facilitate the education of tomorrow's leaders and community organizers.

At a Glance

Department of Education Final Report on changes to guidlines and reporting -
Department of education Press release on the Action plan -
LBCC Department of Institutional Research -