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Calif. Scorecard Shows Completion in Reverse

By Corey Murray

Despite efforts to improve completion rates, a statewide rating system reveals California community colleges are still struggling to get students through the system.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Perhaps that’s the lesson coming out of California in recent days. A scorecard system used to gauge the progress and success of community colleges across the state — 112  in all — shows a 2.6 percent decline in completion rates.

While that’s hardly the news administrators were hoping for when they set out to conduct their inaugural review of the program, the consensus is that institutions are making headway in other important areas, such as remedial education and English as a Second Language, and that advances are coming.

Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, which maintains the records, told The Times-Herald that the scorecards were intended to provide an honest portrayal of the state’s two-year institutions, warts and all.

Whenever we as a system can be transparent and accountable to the public, that’s good.

“Whenever we as a system can be transparent and accountable to the public, that’s good,” he said of the program.

In a statement about the results, Brice Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, attributed the decline in completion to a tough economy and “the damage done by years of rationing education in California.”

But it could have been worse.

“This was the largest group to enter our colleges, and just as they arrived at our doors they were hit with a recession that forced us to reduce credit classes by 20 percent,” Harris said. “The fact that our completion rate slipped by only this margin is a testament to the perseverance of these students and the colleges that worked heroically to educate as many of them as possible during those grim economic times.”

In a story in The Sacramento Bee, Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, attributed the declines to some laid-off workers who used community colleges as a stopgap until the economy picked up.

“They were the ones who said, ‘I will take any class. I will stand around. I will do whatever it takes to stay in college,’” Lay said. It sounded like the smart thing to do — at the time. But once companies started to hire again, all bets were off.

While community college leaders are concerned about the results — “None of us are happy with it,” American River College interim president Pamela Walker told the SacBee — educators continue to point to the progress their institutions are making in other facets as evidence that community colleges are headed in the right direction.

According to Walker, the number of students attending orientation programs at American River increased by more than 4,000 students between 2013 and 2014, a good indicator that completion rates will also improve.

William Duncan, president of Sierra College, told the SacBee that his institution is focused on preparing incoming students for the demands of college. Last fall, the college opened a student support center, where students can work with advisers and fellow students to plan their educations and ensure that the necessary requirements for graduation or transfer are completed.

You can read more about individual community colleges by accessing the scorecard.

Does your community college have a gauge for measuring its effectiveness?

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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