A More Complete Completion Picture

By now the chorus of complaint is well-rehearsed: Institutions that enroll significant numbers of part-time and adult students blast the federal graduation rate for failing to capture the educational outcomes for what, in some cases, can represent a majority of their student bodies. Though often unstated, the underlying suggestion is that a more complete picture would also present a more positive one.

A report to be released today, however, suggests that that may not be the case. The report, from the national group Complete College America, purports to present for the first time data on the educational progress of all postsecondary students (part-time and full-time, those in developmental courses, etc.) in several dozen states, providing a fuller look at how successfully students are moving through public higher education.

The results are not terrifically encouraging. Extrapolating a bit from the 33 states that provided data on their public higher education systems, the report, "Time Is the Enemy," reveals that the educational outcomes of the students invisible in most such counts of performance lag badly.

Among the findings:

  • Fewer than a quarter of part-time students attain their target credential (certificate, associate, bachelor’s), even when given twice the normal time. Part-time students are half as likely as full-time students to earn a credential in that time.
  • Fully half of associate degree seekers and 20 percent of bachelor’s degree seekers require remedial coursework in college, and those students are significantly less likely than the average student to earn their chosen credential in 150 percent of the standard time. 
  • Black and Latino students and those from low-income backgrounds — especially those who are part time — underperform their peers. 
  • The average student at all levels takes many more credits than are required to earn the credential, with the biggest excess occurring at the certificate level, where the average student takes 68.5 credits for 30-credit certificates.

"The data suggest that if there were a fuller count [of college completion], it would present a picture that’s worse," said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. "If you were to create a combined rate [including full-time and part-time students], it would be lower."

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INSIDE HIGHER ED

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