Progress: Graduation rates increased in 4-year and 2-year colleges; Chehalis schools focus on career- and college-readiness

Several recent reports contain good news for those of us concerned about improved academic performance. 

The Brookings Institution reports on a demonstration project showing great success in improving graduation rates in community colleges. They lead with the challenge to be addressed:

Community colleges, which enroll nearly 40 percent of undergraduates, have very low graduation rates. Only 20 percent of full-time community college students who seek a degreemanage to graduate within three years. That rate rises to 35 percent after five years, but by then another 45 percent of degree-seekers have given up and dropped out of college.

We wrote here about Washington’s performance in advancing students from community college to 4-year schools. Results are mixed: A high proportion of those who transfer to 4-year schools complete a degree, but relatively few transfer. As we noted at the time, those results may not be important.

Of course, for many students, a community or technical college degree is the desired outcome. Not all careers require a four-year degree, so the importance of that measure may be overstated in the research. Nonetheless, the report spotlights important information for policymakers, particularly in our state where we’ve placed a high priority on community college education. 

But completion of a postsecondary credential – some college or trade certification – is increasingly important. So the Brookings report is encouraging.

Early last year, MDRC, a respected research firm that specializes in evaluations of social policies, released the results of a randomized trial at the City University of New York (CUNY). In partnership with MDRC, CUNY tested an innovative program of wrap-around support services known as Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which provides intensive academic supports and incentives for its students. The ASAP program requires that students enroll full time and attend advising and tutoring sessions. All of their financial need is covered, and they receive free textbooks.

The results of the CUNY trial were impressive: ASAP doubled the three-year graduation rate of students seeking an associates’ degree (from 22 percent to 40 percent), while also increasing the share of students who transferred to four-year colleges to seek a BA (from 17 percent to 25 percent). And while the program increased annual costs per enrolled student (by about $5,400), it actually reduced the total cost of producing each additional graduate.

Researchers replicated the trial in Ohio and are scaling up the project in New York. The early evidence is very promising.

Also, the Hechinger Report finds that college graduation rates are increasing

Graduation rates have begun to rebound after falling, and while the most recent figures still are short of pre-decline levels, analysts expect them to continue their slow rise.

The proportion of students who started college in the fall of 2010 and graduated within six years rose to 54.8 percent, up just under 2 percentage points from the proportion who started in the fall of 2009, but still short of the proportion who started in 2008, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks this.

The report continues,

That means 55,000 more students who began in 2010 have finished than who began in 2009, the center reported—but also that more than 1.3 million haven’t, at a time when the nation is behind schedule at meeting a goal of increasing the proportion of the population with degrees to 60 percent by 2025.

About 40 percent of Americans today have postsecondary degrees and credentials.

The Washington Roundtable has set an even more ambitious goal:

By 2030, 70 percent of Washington students will earn a postsecondary credential by the age of 26.

And, to that point, we were pleased to read of an initiative being undertaken in Chehalis, Washington.

Members of the Chehalis Foundation, Chehalis School District, Centralia College, the Washington Roundtable and The BERC Group discussed the Beyond K-12 Student Initiative on Thursday and how it ties into a larger statewide picture.

The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of students who earn a postsecondary credential of some sort from 20 percent to 60 percent within the next 10 years. 

Data provided by The BERC Group, an independent evaluation, research and consulting firm, shows the district has made improvements and plans to continue its progress.

Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, said he is pleased to work with a community that he will one day use an example as he closely watches the progress. 

It’s good to begin a Monday with positive news. These initiatives can increase the opportunities of students everywhere, advancing the goal of shared prosperity through increased educational attainment.