North Carolina Community Colleges Unveil New Gauges of Performance

North Carolina’s community colleges now know exactly how they stack up against one another—and how much state money they can expect to receive next year.

In a report released on Wednesday, the North Carolina Community College System unveiled its “Performance Measures for Student Success,” detailing how its 58 campuses are performing in their students’ GED-passage rates, graduation rates, transfer success, and five other areas.

The measures represent the kind of drive toward accountability pushed by policy makers as they ask colleges to show evidence of their progress.

According to the report, about two-thirds of the colleges were better than the system average in at least three performance measures during the 2011-12 academic year. The gauges will now be tied to about $30-million in appropriations by the North Carolina General Assembly for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Most colleges failed to reach the systemwide goals in the performance measures, but the system’s president, R. Scott Ralls, said being able to use the new data was a big step toward tracking future progress.

“Performance measures and funding models shouldn’t be a beauty contest,” he said. “It should be a tool for us and each institution to see if we’re moving forward to goals that we believe in. It’s not who is at what level now, but where we want to go to.”

Mr. Ralls said that budget cuts had undermined previous efforts to reward colleges based on their performance, but that the legislature has now set aside funds for that purpose.

The system reported a curriculum-completion rate of 41.1 percent. That gauge, a key factor in state appropriations this year, measures the percentage of first‐time, credential‐seeking students who graduate, transfer, or are still enrolled after six years and have accumulated 36 credit hours. Mr. Ralls cited that measure as one particularly important to the state.

The system began developing new measures to gauge progress in 2010, and the legislature approved them in June 2012. The measures focus on student progress, not just degree completion, to encourage colleges to fix problems that let students fall through the cracks.

But the community colleges still have work to do, Mr. Ralls said. The system will now try to figure out how to reward colleges based on employment outcomes. “From lawmakers’ perspective,” he said, “there’s a big focus on how does this all relate to jobs.”

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