What Graduation Rates Have Missed for Community College Students

For years, federal data essentially ignored the outcomes of the typical community college student. The official Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) graduation rate counted only students who had enrolled in college for the first time and attended full time. It did not count transfer students or part-time students, even though 65 percent of community college students are transfers, part-time students, or both. And students who took longer than four years to finish school weren’t counted as graduates at all.

Last year, however, the federal government took a big step toward rectifying that with a new set of data called Outcome Measures that includes both part-time and transfer students. This column analyzes how community colleges’ results on the Outcome Measures compared with their IPEDS four-year graduation rate. The new data show that community colleges do a better job supporting their students than the graduation rate has given them credit for.

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