U.S. Department of Education
Each year, postsecondary education institutions report graduation rates for cohorts of students enrolled at their institution based on methods outlined in federal laws and regulations. However, the current federal graduation rate measure is incomplete and does not adequately convey the wide range of student outcomes at two-year institutions. For example, the student cohort used in calculating federal graduation rates excludes many students who typically enroll at two-year institutions, and the time period for tracking student outcomes is not long enough to capture the success of many students who take longer to graduate. Further, federal graduation rates do not take into account students’ college readiness and enrollment in remedial coursework, which may delay their progress toward a degree. Finally, data are not collected on other important outcomes achieved by students at two-year institutions. Although federal graduation rates provide important comparable data across institutional sectors, limitations in the data understate the success of students enrolled at two-year institutions and can be misleading to the public. The U.S. Department of Education’s Committee on Measures of Student Success was authorized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) to advise the Secretary of Education in assisting two-year degree-granting institutions of higher education in meeting graduation rate disclosure requirements in the Act. The Committee can also recommend additional or alternative measures of student success that take into account the mission and role of two-year degree-granting institutions. After more than a year of deliberations, the Committee has developed a series of recommendations for actions that the Department and the higher education community should implement both in the short and long term. We believe that these changes are necessary to ensure that institutions have access to and are able to report data that more accurately describe student success at two-year institutions. Specifically, the Committee recommends that the Department improve the comprehensiveness of graduation rate data by adding other cohorts of students for which data are collected and exploring how these data can be disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender. The Committee also recommends that the Department broaden the federal graduation rate measure by collecting data that could be used to calculate more complete graduation and transfer rates and increase the availability of data on students’ transitions in postsecondary education nationally. The Committee also recommends that the Department take steps to improve access to and availability of alternative measures of success, such as making available data on student employment outcomes as gathered in federal gainful employment regulations, providing incentives to improve the availability of state-level earnings data to two-year institutions, and encouraging institutions to develop assessments of student learning and share promising practices.