New Community College Accountability System Announced

By Staff
October 7, 2009

A new national, voluntary initiative designed to measure and compare community college accountability was announced yesterday.

The project is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education, and will gather leaders from groups such as the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees. The new accountability system will enable colleges to improve their programs and graduate more students on time and at a lower cost.

"We need to see beyond graduation rates," explained Holly Zanville, a senior program director at Lumina who was quoted by Inside Higher Ed. "Even if colleges find that they have poor graduation rates--and many of them do--they can't tell where students get lost and how they can get along to improve themselves. We need to pay more attention to milestone markers. Of course, we're still interested in outcomes, but we need to know more about what's happening along the way."

Diane Troyer, a senior program officer at Gates, added that community colleges have recently been receiving a great deal of attention. "But," she noted, "more attention has to be placed on completion initiatives. . . . Having these national benchmarks for colleges to assess their own performance will help them tremendously."

Eight community colleges will pilot the new program: The Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, the Dallas Community College District in Texas, Greenville Technical College in South Carolina, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, Laney College in California, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Oklahoma City Community College and the Pima Community College District in Arizona. The project aims to have a voluntary accountability system in 20 community colleges by 2011.

Charles Miller, former chair of former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education, told Inside Higher Ed that he hoped the project would embrace the concept of a "unit record system"--a method of tracking students' progress throughout their educational careers.

"One of the problems with accountability for community colleges is the need to follow students beyond community college," he noted. "Most community college students don't come for the purpose of getting a degree or a certificate, and they'll have to find a way to measure that. These accountability efforts often focus so much on degree completion, but that's definitely not the only thing that community colleges do."

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