The Select Committee on Community Colleges held an oversight hearing, “The State of California Community Colleges,” on February 18. The committee invited PPIC Bren Fellow Hans Johnson to testify on the Community College Chancellor’s Office efforts to provide new information on student outcomes through its Student Success Scorecard. Here are his prepared remarks.
Thank you Chairman Fox and committee members. My name is Hans Johnson. I am a Bren Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California. PPIC has produced a number of studies on California’s higher education systems. Our focus in those studies is on student outcomes, and how we can improve those outcomes. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today about the Community College Chancellor’s Office efforts to provide more and better information on student outcomes through their “Student Success Scorecard.”
Community colleges play an especially important role in California. They enroll the large majority of undergraduates in our state, far more than UC, CSU, or private institutions. As a state, from a budget and enrollment perspective, we place more emphasis on community colleges than do most other states. Helping more community college students to achieve degrees, certificates, and transfer is key to our state’s wellbeing.
As an independent researcher, I have had the opportunity to work with the Chancellor’s Office, and I have been very impressed with their professionalism and their knowledge. The scorecard is a step in the right direction for several reasons. First, the scorecard offers the right kind of information on the right kinds of student outcomes. For numerous critical measures, such as completion rates, the scorecard provides information on outcomes for each of the state’s community colleges, with breakdowns for key demographic groups.
Second, the scorecard is transparent and accurate. It reflects the impressive data collection efforts and expertise of the Chancellor’s Office. Details about the scorecard measures and how they were created are readily accessible.
Third, the scorecard presents information in a user-friendly format. Graphs and tables are well-presented and easy to follow. This is critical for parents and prospective students as they consider their college choices.
Finally, the scorecard is a useful tool for policymakers, policy researchers, and the colleges themselves. The scorecard makes it easy for colleges to identify where they stand relative to other colleges and to measure their progress over time. For policy researchers, this information is useful in answering questions about student progress. For example, using the scorecard we find that there is a wide range in completion rates across colleges (with completion defined as earning an associate’s degree, a certificate, or transferring to a four year college). Some of this variation can be attributed to differences in the academic preparation of incoming students, as can be shown using scorecard data.
The scorecard is an important tool, but it could be enhanced by incorporating additional measures. This would be easy to do, because the Community College Chancellor’s Office already has very useful data available elsewhere. For example, through its Salary Surfer the Community College Chancellor’s Office provides data on salaries of community college students before and after earning a degree or certificate. Adding this information to the scorecard would provide valuable labor force information for prospective students. The Chancellor’s Office provides even more data on student outcomes through its online Data Mart query tool. Some of that data, such as transfer rates to four year colleges, should also be incorporated into the scorecard.
California’s community colleges are doing a very good job of collecting and sharing important data, and the scorecard is an important example of those efforts. However, the Community College Chancellor’s Office still faces a big challenge in getting the scorecard into the hands of prospective students and parents when they need it most.
Finally, it must be noted that the scorecard is only a tool. The information provided in the scorecard can prompt action, but the real key to increasing student success depends on improving student pathways to transfer, degree completion, and certificate completion.