Revised Data Shows Community Colleges Have Been Underappreciated

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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.


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.


Kevin Carey directs the Education Policy program at New America.