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A larger window shows more student success

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​Community college graduation rates over four years are significantly higher than on-time (two-year) graduation, according to new federal data.

When looking at a two-year period, the graduation rate of full-time, first-time students attending public two-year colleges was 11.3 percent for the 2010 cohort year, according to new U.S. Education Department data. When the period was doubled to four years, the graduation rate for those students jumped to 26.7 percent.

Currently, the official federal completion rate for all postsecondary institutions is based on the percentage of full-time, first-time students who complete a degree or certificate within 150 percent of a program’s “normal time” (which amounts to three years for community colleges) and excludes transfers.

Community college supporters have long advocated — based on data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, various states and others — that community college students often take longer to earn a credential because many of them are juggling school, work and families. Organizations such as the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) are encouraging Congress to use a six-year window to more accurately gauge how well community colleges and their students are performing. AACC uses the six-year period for community colleges using its Voluntary Framework of Accountability, a system for reporting data that allows community colleges to measure their performance and compare themselves to similar-sized institutions across the nation.

AACC also wants transfers to be included in official completion and graduation rates.

“Many students who attend community college intend on and in fact do transfer to other institutions to complete their degree or certificate,” AACC said in position paper. Excluding these students from community college completion and graduation rates results in “artificially low completion rates,” it said.

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