Making Good Use of the National Focus on Student Success and Completion

Marcia Pfeiffer

Two things posted last fall in Inside Higher Ed (week of 11/15/2015) caught my eye about college completion. The US Department of Education has submitted proposal language giving them the authority to force accrediting agencies from approving colleges where students are not completing at acceptable rates. At the same time, the National Student Clearinghouse is reporting decreasing numbers of student completing across the board in higher education. Before us then is the big problem: Student completion is a huge agenda in most circles and try as we might, it is tough to improve the rates at which students and therefore colleges are successful on this metric. By the way, what do you think acceptable rates of completion will be?

Adding another angle to this topic was an article in our local newspaper about the decreasing success students are experiencing on the GED test. Just for review, the GED is the high school equivalency test allowing students who do not complete high school to sit for an exam and earn their high school diploma. The Fort Collins Coloradoan (11/23/2015) reports that the test was rewritten, computerized, and privatized in 2014, now reflecting the Common Core standards. It goes on to report that the number of residents in our state who have taken and passed the new version of the test has dropped 75 percent.

Apparently, this is not only the case in Colorado as the Coloradoan related that, “nineteen other states have responded to falling numbers of test takers by offering alternatives to the GED, such as the HiSET, run by the administrator of the GRE graduate entrance exam, or another called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC.” Given that many students who complete their high school education through this kind of testing then move on to the community college, the decreasing success on the GED seems to be part of the student success/completion agenda.

These pieces of information should not, however, deter us from making every effort to focus on student success and completion. Rather, we should see this interest in completion as a way to talk with legislators and members of our external communities about education and the mission and critical work of community colleges. We need to understand the pathways that are bringing students to our community colleges.

Many colleges have identified areas in which they can make changes that have the potential to benefit students. Whether a college is focused on the entering student process, on identifying guided pathways to give students both a goal and clarity of direction, or on enhancing student support services in areas like tutoring, we have much to share with one another. It is clear that we are all in this work together. The success of students now and in the future depends on our continued focus on the best practices to improve learning, helping students to achieve success and complete their certificate and degree programs.

Are you talking about student success and completion throughout your college? How often do you and your colleagues take a look at the best practices happening on your own campus? Do you understand the way student success is defined in your college? What about how your college defines completion? Does it matter to you? Would your college pass if your regional accrediting association made completion a central factor in its review?

Through the Faculty Voices project our mission is to engage community college faculty in the conversation about completion and success. If your institution chooses to invite Faculty Voices dialogue, step up and let us hear your ideas, concerns, and questions.

Marcia Pfeiffer has been a community college faculty member, administrator, and president. Now retired, she is serving as a facilitator in the League’s Faculty Voices Project.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on January 27, 2016.