Determining the Completion Arch for Community College Students

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Over 500 sources of data are now being brought together to create a new educational tool to follow the completion of community college students on national and statewide levels. The Chronicle for Higher Education recently reported about this new tool, called The Completion Arch, being offered by RTI International. Asking “What really happens at Community Colleges?” the new tool is intended to track community college students along five stages of their educational progress: Enrollment, Developmental Education Placement, Progress, Transfer and Completion, and Employment Outcomes. To make the tools more useful, the designers have made every attempt to use the latest data sources. For instance, I was able to pull the Fall 2014 data for the state of Michigan on some basic enrollment characteristics.

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In addition, when I pulled up transfer and completion for Michigan, it gave me graduation rates for first-time, full-time students. The data showed that among full-time degree or certificate seeking students in Michigan who started in 2009, about 15% graduated within 150% of normal time (2 yrs for Associates degree).

As an aside from me: 15% is a low rate. But for those who work at community colleges, we know that full-time students who are “first-time” in higher education comprise a fairly low percentage of the overall enrollment. A larger portion are returning adults who stop in and out of higher ed, are attending part-time while balancing families and jobs. Their completion rates would be better considered over a 200 or even 300% of “normal” time (100% = 2 years for an Associates degree).

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The narrative provided beneath each of the charts provides further details in order to understand the data.

Data Challenges

This data tool is an extremely ambitious project and there is strong need for this kind of compilation across the myriad of sources that can influence the direction of community college curriculum, policies and actions. But there are some weaknesses, especially at the state-level information which is either missing all together or incomplete, according to the Chronicle’s author, Max Lewontin, in the article from October 22, 2014.

Although the tool was originally launched in 2012, it has been expanded and the future vision includes possibly allowing community colleges to add their own data to the system. There is a lot of potential to this tool if the data can be compiled with more depth. It is definitely worth looking at, and could even be an interesting tool to discuss with your students on the use of data in decision-making.

You can find The Completion Arch here:

And the Chronicle article here.

Two Simultaneous Conversations in Education – Part II – Liberal (and General) Education


In Part I of Simultaneous Conversations in Education, we offered a brief review of a conversation about what the completion agenda means, the concerns it raises, and how we can make it work for the students we serve. It brought up many questions, none of them easy to answer.

In Part II, we examine a second article, titled Defending Liberal Education: The Essential Questions. Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus for the League for Innovation in The Community College, asks some provocative questions about how we frame the value of liberal arts education. Reminding us that General Education requirements are designed to ensure at least a minimum liberal arts learning experience, he suggests that the issue of “remapping” educational pathways uses language that can often obscure our well-meaning intentions of what Liberal Education can offer. This is especially true if we are to communicate the value of the liberal arts to other stakeholders such as leaders from business and industry, or parents, legislators, students, or even vocational faculty.

O’Banion challenges us to reimagine liberal education in what he called “a series of Essential Questions” which help guide human beings through life experiences. He recognizes that this can be controversial but that it reflects “that which matters the most to us and is stated in a powerful form that makes us begin thinking immediately about our own personal answers.”


“The final product of training…’must be neither a psychologist nor a brick mason, but a man.'”

– W.E.B. DuBois


The questions he addresses come under five major categories and are not meant to offer answers, but provoke further discussion on the meaning of liberal education. The categories, along with a sampling of the questions are shared below.

  • Personal Development

Who am I? Where am I going? What difference does it make?

  • Economic Development

What are the basic talents and skills I have that can translate into a good career?

What are the rewards for working that are important to me?

What is my dream job? …what kind of educational experiences will it take to get me there?

When I die what do I want my family and friends and coworkers to say about the work I have done?

  • Civic Development

How much do I understand and appreciate being a citizen of a major democracy?

Through what means can I make a difference so that I leave my country better than I found it?

  • Cultural Development

What are my most creative urges and talents that could produce something worth sharing with others? To what extent have I been exercising those urges and talents?

How do I, or can I use art, music, dance, theatre, poetry, etc. to enrich my life? Which of these do I like most and why?

What do human beings around the world old most in common?

  • Social Development

What is my responsibility for my fellow human beings?

What contributions am I making or planning to make to improve my family, friends, school, workplace, etc.?

O’Banion acknowledges that these and other questions posed in the article may not be met with open arms by business and government leaders and that some may question whether these are the responsibility of education at all. That is the challenge he poses to educators, to find ways to reframe the discussion on liberal and general education, making the case for its relevance and importance to educating the next generation of students. He suggests that questions like these might serve as “milestones and indicators of progress along the Student Success Pathway.”

In starting the conversation with these “essential questions,” O’Banion also invites your participation by asking you to send your suggestions for improvement to the categories and questions he shares in the article to:

Read the full article here.

Two Simultaneous Conversations in Education – Part I – The Completion Conversation

There are two simultaneous conversations that have a direct impact on community colleges: College Completion, and General Education. These two topics are often discussed under the general area of College Pathways, the latest in a series of reforms aimed at improving college completion for community college students.

In two recent articles, the cross-over relationship between college completion and general (aka liberal) education begin to emerge. The first article is discussed here in Part I. A discussion about the second article will be shared in Part II.

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The League for Innovation in the Community College published a Learning Abstract titled “Community College Voices in the National Completion Conversation” that shared the compilation of a discussion during a session at one of their Learning Summits in order to bring faculty to the national conversation. They posed what seemed like a simple question:

What does completion mean to you?

This lead to a discussion not unlike those that have occurred at Mott Community College, and many other community colleges across the nation. And the results were just as diverse but fell into two themes:

1) Students fulfilling their own goals.

2) Students earning credentials.

For the first major theme above, the goals could be broken down into smaller increments such as “students accomplish what they came to do” or even “good grades” or “success at each increment.” The second major theme was more direct referencing the certificate, degree or transfer, but also mentioned issues related to employment and “workforce preparedness”.

Some members of the group addressed a third category labeled “Other Approaches” which looked at completion from the perspective of different stakeholders.

Another question that was posed included:

What Issues and Concerns to you have about the completion agenda?

The themes that resulted from the conversation on this question were:

1) Academic Rigor and Relevance.

2) Student Support.

3) Student Preparedness.

4) Student Funding.

5) Institutional Funding.

6) Employability.

7) Driving the Agenda.

8) Defining Terms.

9) Completion Goals.

10) Data.


11) College Challenges

The themes, as you might expect, address a variety of sometimes contentious issues with the element of “definition” being a recurring underlying theme. For instance, there was concern about the inconsistency of who defines completion, especially when different stakeholders and external organizations impact the conversation.

When the question changed to one about promise, a stronger consensus emerged.

What promise do you see in the national focus on completion?

A sub-question that followed was: “Why are we doing this if there are no promises?” The resulting conversation seemed more positive.

1) The national conversation.

2) Collaboration.

3) Retention.

4) Benefits for Students.

5) Benefits for Community.

6) Benefits for the College.

What are the big questions you have regarding student success and completion?

The participants were asked to come up with their own “Big Questions” which then were grouped into five categories:

1) The definition of completion.

2) Engaging and Supporting students to completion and careers.

3) Employability and a Living Wage.

4) Joining the conversation.

5) College needs.

To read about these themes and the conversations and questions that swirled within them, see the full article at the League for Innovations website at this link.

A Matter of Degrees: Practices to Pathways (CCCSE)

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In this third publication from the Matter of Degrees series produced by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), the Practices to Pathways report captures the research, organizational thinking, and challenges facing community colleges. Ultimately, it focuses on best educational practices and communicating them through clearly mapped academic and career pathways.

Sometimes called Roadmaps, pathways represent a guide to the student’s journey through college, hopefully one that is clearer and offers milestones and stronger opportunities to prepare for what comes after college. Faculty, staff and administrators have been charged with creating these pathways and then mentoring students through the process in order to achieve their educational goals.

“Completing college is the result of successfully navigating a multitude of smaller decisions from start to finish. But for many college students, finding a path to completion is the equivalent of navigating a shapeless river on a dark night – and the wider the river, the more difficult it can be to find the way.”
~ Judith Scott-Clayton, Senior Research Associate, CCRC, Columbia University

The report identifies 13 “high-impact practices” that need to be addressed along that pathway:

  • Structured group learning experiences, including:
    • Orientation
    • Accelerated or fast-track developmental education
    • First-year experience
    • Student success course
    • Learning Community
  • Academic goal setting and planning
  • Experiential learning beyond the classroom
  • Tutoring
  • Supplemental Instruction
  • Assessment and placement
  • Registration before classes begin
  • Class attendance
  • Alert and intervention

For example, developmental students in a CCSSE survey who reported participating in any orientation were 1.51 to 1.61 times more likely to successfully complete a developmental math or English course, respectively.

In another example, CCSSE developmental students who participated in a student success course in their first semester were 5.22 times more likely to successfully complete a developmental English course!

Read more about this important report, A Matter of Degrees: Practices to Pathways, and the work that is at hand at Mott and other community colleges around the country.

You may also be interested in the first and second reports that were published as part of this series from CCCSSE:

A Matter of Degrees: Engaging Practices, Engaging Students

A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for community College Student Success, A First Look

Great new article on Students becoming “Flexible Experts”

A recent article in the Carnegie Commons featured the concept of students learning “flexible expertise” in order to become more adaptable to new situations and challenges. Featuring the work of Jim Stigler, he introduces three key learning strategies: Productive Struggle, Explicit Connections, and Deliberate Practice.

The article is well worth the read and you may find the additional links helpful as they demonstrate the application of his theories to mathematics pathways. The study mentioned in the article, Roediger and Karpicke, provides an excellent example of how our assumptions for learning (such as continuous rereading of material vs. recall testing) may be off base when we look at longterm understanding of material taught in our classrooms. For those in non-STEM fields, this article provides food for thought on how we approach teaching and learning in the humanities and the arts.

Here’s a link to the full article called “Creating Opportunities for Students to Become Flexible Experts” by Lillian Kivel, 9/11/14