important that it be amplified,” in Dougherty’s view, and he noted that such proposals are currently under consideration.23

Lashawn Richburg-Hayes endorsed this view and emphasized the importance of including in the indicator system disaggregated data that captures community college students and other nontraditional students, and perhaps also financial aid status, family income, and need for remediation at the time of matriculation. These are important points to track, in her view, because they reflect groups who have the greatest obstacles to success. Laura Perna also noted the challenges of capturing the variation in students and their differing pathways through institutions. She suggested including a basic measure of graduation rates for full-time students at the institution in which they first enrolled, but also including tools on the indicators website that allow users to disaggregate the data to reflect graduation rates for different types of colleges and universities and for students with different demographic and academic characteristics.

Another challenge, Dougherty noted, is to decide what time window to use for completion. The current standard is to look at students who graduate within 150 to 200 percent of what is regarded as a normal time for completing the degree. But since so many students attend part time, many take much longer than that. It might be useful, he suggested, to either extend the window or to have several windows, to capture students who stay enrolled or re-enroll. Perna advocated including a measure of the highest level of education attained by students 10 years after they first enrolled in a postsecondary institution, as a way of addressing this concern.

Tierney cited both graduation and retention rates (the number of full-time students who return each year) as important, and he also noted another challenge to consider with this indicator. “If graduation is the criterion,” he commented, “the for-profits know how to do that—they will graduate students.” For that reason it is important to include retention as well, since some students may need more time to meet requirements.

Transfer Rates

A related and equally important measure, for Dougherty, is of students who successfully transfer from a community college to a 4-year institution without earning a degree at the community college. However, he added, community college graduation rates usually do not include students who transfer without having first received an associate’s degree—a complete picture of the contribution community colleges make would include these data. Such data are available in many state longitudinal data systems and also from the National Student Clearinghouse (an organization that collects data from more than 3,300 participating colleges and universities). Richburg Hayes also called for a measure of the proportion of students who graduate or transfer within 200 percent (4 years) or 300 (6 years) percent of the normal time to completion.


23Dougherty also noted that the College Board is currently developing a website that will make a variety of outcomes indicators for community colleges publicly available.

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