Local community college officials approve of plans to include transfers in graduation rates


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A nationwide plan to change the monitoring of higher-education graduation rates has piqued the interest of local community colleges.

Under the U.S. Education Department's plan, released April 11, students who transfer between public colleges and part-time students would be counted in their starting college's graduation rates.

Steve Ovel, the Kirkwood Community College governmental-relations director, said the plan would be a tremendous aid to community colleges with students who tend to transfer to four-year universities after a year or two.

"Community colleges have been struggling for many years to define students," he said. "We've been working on this as a community-college system [nationally], and the Department of Education is helping bring the process to an end."

Ovel said Kirkwood is working to improve its graduation rate from 29 to 39 percent with help from the department's proposal and the state's regent schools.

"We've been working with schools like the University of Iowa and Iowa State University to develop ways of getting our transfer and part-time students graduate status when they transfer to those four-year colleges," he said. "We're very excited to collaborate with the colleges."

The end goal, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the plan's proposal , is to give more accreditation to students who don't follow the typical progression through years of postsecondary education.

"Better data across institutions are the basis for finding sound solutions to help students stay in school and complete their postsecondary studies," Duncan said. "It is critical to their success and our nation's economic prosperity."

Ovel said community colleges could obtain graduation records of transfer and part-time students through the Department of Education to be included in the graduation rate.

In 2011, the UI received nearly 1,700 of its transfer students from Iowa schools — in comparison, about 1,100 transferred from other U.S. schools.

Ovel emphasized the difference in success rates — students who receive jobs after graduation — and those who only graduate. In 2011, national success rate, which counts transfer students and part-time students, for community colleges was 53 percent. The graduation rate, which does not count such students and is measured by two-year completion, was only 36 percent.

"This helps us understand who graduates are working for and where they are going after graduation," he said. "This way we can better students and the institution."

Iowa senators on the education committee also spoke favorably of the department's proposal.

"There's no rationalization for [not counting transfer students,]" said Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon. "The education system is a lot better off than people think. If we're not counting these students it doesn't show."

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he agreed.

"It's important to develop measures of how well students are doing," he said.

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