Student Success and the Value of Accountability

By Christine Johnson

Go beyond any policy to help meet colleges’ goals and encourage student success.

Achieving greater student success is the goal of all educators, yet achieving measurable results requires commitment and accountability from the highest levels of leadership.

Shortly after I became chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane, the board of trustees participated in “The Governance Institute for Student Success” and directed me to draft a comprehensive Student Success Policy. This policy stated, “Community Colleges of Spokane will implement common, evidence-based best practices in student success, increasing and accelerating completion rates for associate degrees and certificates, and closing achievement and retention gaps among students.”

While a policy in and of itself does not automatically generate new outcomes, it is an essential early step for any college to communicate their expectations of rigorous coursework, increased completion rates and consistent and accurate measurements of results.

One of the ways to hold oneself accountable for results is to partner with others on shared goals. For instance, for our Student Transitions Information Project (STIP), we partnered with more than 70 high schools across 43 school districts in eastern Washington to bridge the data gap between high schools and higher-education student records. By combining K–12 records with data from community colleges and the National Student Clearinghouse, we created a longitudinal student-data system for school districts and colleges in eastern and central Washington. This regional data system enables us to track and share our students’ progress to and through graduation. Because all of the partner schools involved hold a shared goal of improving data systems for student success, we are all held accountable for the project’s outcomes.

The more transparent you are with peers and partners about the innovative programs you seek to implement, the more incentive you have to follow through on your goals.

A second way to hold colleges accountable to their student-success goals is to showcase new programs and efforts as they are developing. The more transparent you are with peers and partners about the innovative programs you seek to implement, the more incentive you have to follow through on your goals. For instance, STIP hosts two data summits each year to share information with partner institutions and seek their guidance about future research and reporting needs. More importantly, these summits bring together educators, educational researchers, counselors and grantors — in the same room at the same time — to discuss critical issues facing education today and to support one another in reaching our stated goals.

Our district’s colleges continue to pursue new opportunities as we prepare to offer BAS degrees later this year and cement partnerships with area colleges and universities to deliver seamless transfers for our students. As we approach these partnerships — enabling students to enter high-demand degree programs at the junior level, often with guaranteed program placement upon completion of their AA degrees — we need to ask: What are our goals and how can we hold ourselves accountable for reaching them?

Setting expectations is a first step. Delivering academically rigorous and relevant coursework is the next. And measuring our results to ensure outcomes is the third essential step in assuring that our own goals are reached and that our students are gaining the skills and knowledge their future goals demand.

Christine Johnson

is the chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane in Washington state.

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