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Revised Data Shows Community Colleges Have Been Underappreciated

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education published new data that redefined the federal graduation rate. While the old definition included only full-time students enrolled in college for the first time, the new definition covers many more non-traditional students. And the results of the new data are striking. As I wrote today in The New York Times' The Upshot:

The results paint a very different picture of community college success. The old measures, for example, captured about 620,000 students who began as first-time, full-time freshmen in 2008. Only 20 percent graduated from the community college they started at within three years. North Shore Community College was typical — its old graduation rate was 19 percent.

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Including all of the part-time and returning students and looking over eight years boosted North Shore’s graduation rate to 35 percent. Another 19 percent transferred before graduation. Others were still working toward a degree. All told, more than half of Mr. Burton’s students had a successful outcome — not, as the old rates suggested, fewer than one in five.

The for-profit picture is not so rosy. The two-year programs Mr. Gunderson chose for comparison make up less than one-fifth of all for-profit enrollment. Four-year programs at for-profits have much lower graduation rates than those of comparable public institutions. Combined, they had a 34 percent graduation rate under the old measures. And in contrast with community colleges, the new measures make for-profits look worse, dropping their average graduation rate to 32 percent.