Looking beyond completion

Source: Achieving the Dream, "Measuring What Matters: Examining the Success of Achieving the Dream Network College Graduates in Work and Life," February 2018.

The national community college reform group Achieving the Dream (ATD) is looking at how graduates of its member colleges are faring in their lives and jobs after college.

A new ATD report released today examined how 11,000 graduates of 15 ATD community colleges in five states are doing in four areas: employment, job satisfaction, quality of life and college experience. Graduates of ATD colleges appear to be slightly more satisfied in those areas than their national peers, according to an accompanying survey by Gallup. Low-income and Hispanic and black graduates give notably higher marks on the measures than peers at other community colleges.

Although measures of student success such as credential accumulation and college completion provide a picture of how well community colleges are serving students, ATD wants to help develop the next series of “progression metrics” that can gauge the longer term effects of students’ college experiences, said ATD President Karen A. Stout. Those can include economic gains, drops in dependence on public benefits and decreases in incarceration, she said.

ATD plans to encourage its more than 200-plus member colleges to track alumni based on such measures to get a clearer national picture of how the colleges improve students’ lives and strengthen their communities.

“Many of the ATD colleges are already thinking about this,” Stout said.

More than a job

Although ATD graduates are on par with national peers in terms of full-time employment (58 percent and 56 percent, respectively), they are more likely to be “engaged at work,” according to the survey. Forty-two percent of ATD grads identified as being engaged compared to 33 percent of associate-degree holders nationwide.

“Job rates do not reflect whether graduates are intellectually and emotionally attached to their work, but employed graduates who are engaged at work are more likely to be more loyal and productive,” the report says.

The study also gauged whether graduates felt supported at their college, with slightly more ATD grads (20 percent) than other community college grads (16 percent) indicating so.  Digging deeper, the survey shows that ATD grads think that their professors or instructors cared about them (37 percent compared to 33 percent at other community colleges) and had at least one professor or instructor who made them excited about learning (67 percent compared to 63 percent).

Worth the cost

The report also shows that ATD alumni seem significantly more “emotionally attached” to their college than other associate-degree holders (29 percent compared to 17 percent). In particular, Hispanic ATD grads (39 percent) report being closer to their alma mater than ATD grads who are black (34 percent), Asian (31 percent) and white (25 percent).

Where ATD graduates show some of the biggest differences is in their perceived value of their college. Over half of ATD graduates (57 percent) strongly agreed their community college education was worth the cost, compared to 39 percent of community college grads nationally. Again, blacks and Hispanics were the most likely to strongly agree (61 percent and 62 percent, respectively).

When asked if their colleges prepared them well for life, nearly one-third of ATD grads strongly agreed, compared to 22 percent nationally. Adult learners especially agreed, with 36 percent of ATDs grads agreeing compared to 27 percent among younger students who felt the same.

Strada Education Network provided support for the study.

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