Two issues on which many higher education experts agree are that completion rates matter and that the federal methodology for measuring graduation rates is seriously flawed. To date, however, no alternative system for measuring graduation rates has gained widespread currency in discussing the performance of colleges.
Today six higher education associations (representing two-year and four-year institutions, public and private) are endorsing a new system called the Student Achievement Measure, with the hope of changing the debate about measuring college completion. While individual colleges will have to decide whether to participate, the endorsement of associations representing every nonprofit sector suggests at least the possibility of broad participation. The major financial backer for the new effort is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has in recent years played a prominent role in discussions of college completion.
The Student Achievement Measure (or SAM) involves looking at a number of student cohorts not measured by the federal rate and reporting on multiple success measures for each of them, using different time frames than the federal system.
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