December 19, 2014

Elyria
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LCCC graduation rates among state’s lowest

For Hannah Karlie, becoming a college graduate is on her list of things to do. But making that happen requires a juggling act of life.

She attends Lorain County Community College full-time, had a part-time job until recently and spends time with her friends whenever she has a free moment.

But even after Karlie spent her senior year at Elyria High School taking college courses, she has still found it difficult to balance the schedule of college and work, so she quit her three-day-a-week job to focus on graduating on time.

Karlie will graduate with an associate degree in psychology next year. Counting her year in high school taking college classes, she will have obtained a degree in three years.

And, while most who see the value in higher education will say it doesn’t matter when Karlie graduates as long as she does, the goal of the Ohio Board of Regents is to lessen the amount of time students spend in college, especially community colleges.

The regents employed the help of Complete College Ohio Task Force, which met Tuesday in Columbus and released a task list for colleges with the goal of raising what the Ohio Board of Regents calls the “successful completer rate” in colleges.

According to a nationally recognized data system, a “successful completer” is a first-time, full-time student who completes a certificate or associate degree within three years. For LCCC, that might pose a big hurdle, as at least one study shows that it has one of the lowest graduation rates in the state.
Complete College America from the NCES Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS as it generally is called, shows that LCCC had a graduation rate of 8 percent from 2009 to 2010, which placed it as one of the poorest performers, ahead of only Clark State Community College, University of Akron Wayne College and Cuyahoga Community College District, all of which had graduation rates of 6 percent or less.

Marcia Ballinger, LCCC provost and vice president for Academic and Learner Services, deemed the ranking unfair, saying it does not include the graduation rates of transfer or part-time students that make up the majority of LCCC’s student base.

Ballinger said the population studied in the IPEDS data represents less than 10 percent of students who attend LCCC.

“Lorain County Community College, like the other more urban community colleges in the study, serves a diverse student base. A majority of our students enroll part-time and are not the first-time, full-time students profiled through this study,” she said it a written statement to The Chronicle-Telegram. “Our students find themselves juggling family and employment, sometimes multiple jobs, while pursuing higher education.”

When transfer students are added to the equation, LCCC has a graduation rate of 42 percent, placing it in the 47th percentile of all colleges nationwide, according to www.collegemeasures.org.

Ballinger said another examination of data done by the National Student Clearinghouse and the Joint Center for Policy Research shows that LCCC has a 76 percent graduation rate, with 76 percent of students graduating, transferring or persisting over a six-year period. That data ranks LCCC second-highest in the state for completion, she said.

Although there are many different ways to study college graduation rates, Ron Abrams said IPEDS is one of the most widely recognized.

Abrams, who is the president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, said community colleges have a struggle because national data often studies only successful completers who are full-time students who haven’t transferred to another college or university.

That characterization is unfair to community colleges that have different standards, he said.

“The problem with that definition, and there’s a lot of work being done to change that definition … is that there’s so many people who don’t get counted,” he said.

Under the IPEDS definition, Abrams said, President Barack Obama would not be considered a “successful completer.” Obama attended Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years before finishing his degree at Columbia University.

Shara Davis, dean of Research, Institutional Effectiveness and Public Services at LCCC, said the college already has been working with the state. Davis said LCCC’s graduation rates should climb because the state is looking at including transfer students into the mix of successful graduates.

In that way, LCCC shines — the college has one of the highest transfer rates because of the University Partnership program, which allows students to attend classes at the college itself but receive degrees offered by another college or university.

Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Kasich, who has emphasized changes in the way the state funds colleges and in graduation rates, said graduation rates for all colleges and universities are too low.

According to IPEDS data, career centers and vocational schools like Warren County Career Center and Lorain County Joint Vocational District have the highest graduation rates, with 86 percent and 85 percent of students, respectively, earning degree or certificate in three years.
Community colleges did not fare as well.

Washington State Community College had a graduation rate of 48 percent, the highest graduation rate of community colleges examined. The rest had less than 30 percent of full-time, first-time students completing a certificate or degree within three years.

The problem is that students are taking too long to obtain a degree, Norris said.

“The longer it takes you to graduate, the less likely you are going to graduate,” she said.

According to Complete College America, of 49 students who enrolled either part-time or full-time at a two-year public college, only eight graduated in four years.

Many of the 49 students examined did not return for a second year.

As a solution, the Complete College Ohio Task Force met at Columbus State Community College on Tuesday and presented its 20 recommendations for increasing student success. The task force was established by Ohio Board of Regents chancellor Jim Petro earlier this year to help increase the successful completer rate.

Many recommendations focused on what the task force calls “high-risk students,” who are the first in their family to attend college, have a low income or little support in high school. Petro noted in an executive summary of the task force report that one size does not fit all — he said the solutions can be tailored to match the needs of different colleges and institutions.

Norris said that as part of these recommendations, the Ohio Board of Regents is targeting students before they enroll in college by making sure high school students are career- and college-ready, with advanced placement classes in high school and by making sure colleges offer more chances for students to complete their degrees on time.

Now, colleges must show that 10 percent of all of their programs are achievable in three years. By 2014, the Ohio Board of Regents hopes that colleges can show that 60 percent of those programs are able to be finished in three years, specifically offering courses at times that are easier to attend for working college students and those that are parents.

Norris said it is up to each college to decide if it will implement the 20 recommendations made by the Complete College Ohio Task Force.

Roy Church, president of LCCC, was involved with the task force, as well as Ballinger and other LCCC officials. Church said the meeting was successful, and LCCC will implement many of the ideas presented.

Part of improving the college will be to develop “personalized plans” for its students and assure that students stay on track to graduate, Church said.

“A lot of life gets in the way before a student gets a degree.  … We’re going to be much more deliberate that students stay on track,” he said.

Davis said the college is already taking several steps to help its students graduate earlier, including reducing the amount of remedial classes needed without diminishing the quality of those classes and helping students choose a major sooner.

The goal is for students to graduate sooner.

But Ohio Association of Community College President Ron Abrams said he doesn’t believe that a time limit should be placed on receiving a degree. The importance is in actually graduating, he said.

“I don’t think you ought to put any time limit on it. Why would you?” he said. “We shouldn’t be putting any of those people in a situation where they can be penalized.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.