Tuesday, April 25, 2017
15 to Finish: From Skepticism to Scale

Two years ago, I wrote my first blog post for Complete College America, “Building A Culture of Timely Graduation: The Story of Purdue University Calumet.” CCA has, for some time, known of the power of 15 credits, modeled by the University of Hawai’i’s signature 15 to Finish campaign. We’ve showcased innovative approaches and put higher education leaders on our stages to tell their 15 to Finish stories. But even more than that, we knew this powerful strategy could be scaled across the country, and we committed to making it happen.

To this day, my approach to implementing and scaling 15 to Finish across our Alliance is most influenced by my experience as a chief retention officer at Purdue University Calumet (now Purdue Northwest) – an urban, regional campus with large populations of low-income, racial minority, and first-generation students. During my time at the institution, I had heard Hawaii’s story and seen their success with increasing on-time completion; however, I was a skeptic.

Just like so many of my campus colleagues across the country, my initial response to 15 to Finish was that this would never work for my students. But I decided to test my flawed hypothesis. As I presented to a room full of students and parents at new student orientation, I conducted a show-of-hands poll to gauge the level of commitment to on-time completion. I asked the first-year students, “How many of you plan to take more than 12 credit hours during your first semester?” To no surprise, only about one-tenth of the students raised their hand. I then followed up with the question that would forever shape my opinion of the campaign, “How many of you plan to graduate in four years?” Nearly the entire room raised their hands.

No matter the students’ backgrounds, work plans, or family obligations, the vast majority wanted to graduate on time, and they believed they would. Unfortunately, our institution – like so many others – as failing to let our students know what it takes to get there. At that moment, I knew we could do better. It was just a matter of recognizing that it wasn’t just on the students, it was on us as institutional leaders to create structures that would aid student success.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 9.27.00 AM

Over the past 9 months, we have partnered with impatient reformers, state leaders, and the academic advising community to see that important work come to fruition across our Alliance, empowering students and staff with the information needed to make better decisions about course loads and the path to graduation day. Through a series of in-state convenings and meetings, we have highlighted the core concept that “full-time” enrollment, doesn’t necessarily mean “on-time” graduation. With standard requirements of 60 credits for an associate degree and 120 credits for a bachelor’s degree, taking 15 credits per semester (30 credits per year) is the only way to ensure on-time completion.

Additionally, we have been clear that not all students will decide to pursue on-time credit accumulation; however, EVERY student should be exposed to information and an academic map that communicate the importance and value of graduating on time. The most common response from participants at CCA 15 to Finish events has been, “This makes sense. How quickly can we get started?” Key insights and learnings from members of the NACADA: The Global Advising Community led to CCA’s creation of free, open-source campaign materials and presentations that allow ease of implementation and promotion on campuses.

As a result of our efforts, 14 states are scaling and more than 200 institutions are now implementing 15 to Finish, putting thousands and thousands of students on track for on-time graduation. All in, 25 states have 15 to Finish efforts happening within them.

The most encouragement comes directly from the new wave of implementers:

Zora Mulligan


“We are seeing growing interest from our colleges and universities about the 15 to Finish initiative as one way we can increase degree completion and help keep college affordable for Missouri families. The 15 to Finish message resonates with students and parents and helps admissions counselors and academic and financial aid advisors underscore the benefits of graduating on time.”

– Commissioner Zora Mulligan, Missouri Department of Higher Education


Commissioner's Headshot


“The 15 to Finish initiative, referred to as “Think 30″in our state, has brought timely completion to the forefront of the post-secondary education discourse in Louisiana. This initiative provides a framework that has served to inform best practices and policies regarding the importance of timely completion and its potential impact on the postsecondary community — and most importantly, our students.”

– Commissioner Joseph Rallo, Louisiana Board of Regents


Scrolling through the #15toFinish hashtag on Twitter and seeing the campaign being implemented in advising offices (or listening to my 8-year-old son ask his college-aged babysitter if she is enrolled in 15 credit hours) tells us that we are well on our way to creating true guided pathways for students and their families. We can definitely feel, see, and track the momentum. The culture of on-time graduation is becoming the norm across the country. Our students and country demand it, and CCA will continue to deliver it.

posted by Dhanfu Elston


Monday, March 27, 2017
Corequisite Remediation Going Coast to Coast

Five years ago, Complete College America made the case that traditional remediation is higher education’s Bridge to Nowhere. In the years that followed, we’ve worked with some of the nation’s leading reformers to chart a better path forward through Corequisite Remediation. Today, not only are we seeing big results from the states, but momentum around adoption of Corequisite Remediation and Math Pathways is reaching its greatest heights yet.

Two of the nation’s largest and most respected higher education systems have now committed to scaling Corequisite Remediation and Math Pathways for their students. A recent story in the New York Times reported that the City University of New York (CUNY) would be moving aggressively to implement the reforms by 2018. Meanwhile, the California State University Board of Trustees announced a new policy to end the practice of prerequisite remediation at all of their campuses and move to corequisite support as the strategy for meeting the needs for their students, also by 2018. Collectively, these two systems serve over 700,000 students annually.

Both CUNY and the California State System have long traditions of being bellwethers of reform on issues of college readiness and remedial education. CUNY sparked the remedial education reform movement in the 1990s, and the California State system planted seeds for the development of the K-16 movement in the early 2000s through their efforts to create greater curricular alignment between K-12 and higher education.

Both systems cite the outstanding results achieved by Tennessee, West Virginia and other states featured in CCA’s Spanning the Divide report. And both systems acknowledge Complete College America’s efforts to make the case for Corequisite Remediation and to support state and system implementations as critical to their decisions to take these strategies to scale.

In addition to the work underway at CUNY and the California State System, CCA is working in 12 other states to promote the scaling of Corequisite Remediation. Each of the states involved in the Corequisite at Scale Initiative have committed to scaling the strategy by 2018.

The results of these collective reforms will result in tens of thousands of students – students who would otherwise never make it to and through a gateway course – completing gateway courses within a single semester.

Corequisite Remediation and Math Pathways are both critical to building student momentum into and through programs of study, especially as it relates the first academic year. With research proving that students are far more likely to earn their degree when they complete gateway math and English courses and earn 30 credits in their first year (including nine credits in their program), it’s clear that our Game Changer strategies are fueling big changes and big gains throughout the country.

We’re doing important work together, and the college completion movement is growing stronger.

posted by Bruce Vandal


Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Rhode Island Governor Thinking Big About College Completion and Affordability

We’ve all seen the statistics: 42 million Americans now carry student loan debt, a daunting economic anchor that totals 1.3 trillion dollars for borrowers. And here in Rhode Island, students graduate with more than $35,000 on average in student loan debt – the second highest amount in the country.

It is a crisis we must address, but as Complete College America has asserted on many occasions, affordability initiatives must go further than simply providing tuition-free college; efforts must instead be designed to ensure students actually complete their degrees and enter the workforce. In other words, scholarship programs must be built for completion.

Fortunately for Rhode Islanders, Governor Raimondo is thinking big about how to address these challenges, providing leadership that is focused not just on affordability, but also on her goals of “radically increasing the number of college graduates in the state” and ensuring residents have the opportunity to compete in a 21st Century economy.

“Rhode Island may be our nation’s smallest state, but Governor Raimondo is setting a big example for leaders around the nation.”

Unlike many other free-college proposals, Governor Raimondo’s plan, which would cover the cost of a two-year degree or half the cost of a four-year degree, includes eligibility requirements that illustrate an uncommon and outsized understanding of what it will take for Rhode Island to produce more graduates and reduce costs in the process. Simply put, this plan may be the best we’ve seen.

The fact is that far too few students, even those considered full time, take the number of credits needed each year to graduate on time. The result: community college students in Rhode Island take an average of four years to earn their two-year degree, and students at four-year institutions often take an extra semester. That extra time on campus means thousands of dollars more in tuition and fees, room and board, debt, and foregone wages. And that’s just for the students who make it to graduation day; many will drop out, racking up debt without the benefits of obtaining a college degree.

Under Governor Raimondo’s plan, student success and completion are the priority. Four-year students would be required to complete 60 credits by the end of their sophomore year in order to receive the tuition waiver – a smart move considering research shows that students who take at least 30 credits per year have higher GPAs, better retention rates, and an increased likelihood of completing their degrees.

Four-year students would also be required to declare a major prior to eligibility in the program. We know that the more credits students take within their program of study, and the earlier they do so, the more momentum they have heading toward graduation. Rather than meandering through coursework and racking up excess credits, students would be incentivized to get on track, stay on track, and ultimately graduate.

For community college students, eligibility would also require full-time attendance, and data from around the country makes clear why: part-time students are far less likely to complete their degrees, even when given double the time to do so. If Rhode Island wants more graduates, more students need to attend full time.

Let’s be clear, though: students aren’t the only ones who need to change their behavior. Institutions must also take steps to ensure on-time completion is the norm and not the exception on their campuses. They can do this by changing the way they deliver remedial education, providing clear and timely academic pathways that lead to a degree, structuring schedules so that students can go full-time even if they are balancing a family and work with school, and giving students the support and guidance needed to reach their goals. Accordingly, any additional tax dollars provided to institutions for implementation of this plan must be tied to real changes like these that are proven to produce more graduates.

Rhode Island may be our nation’s smallest state, but Governor Raimondo is setting a big example for leaders around the nation. More important, she is providing Rhode Island taxpayers more bang for their hard-earned buck: college educations that are more affordable and more likely.

posted by Tom Sugar


Thursday, March 2, 2017
Math Pathways Work Reaches Major Milestone

State higher education and math faculty leaders from six trailblazing states came together in Denver this week to share early results from Complete College America and Charles Dana Center’s Building Math Pathways into Programs of Study (BMPPS) Initiative, funded by the Lumina Foundation. Representatives from Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio showcased statewide efforts to end the practice of referring most students, regardless of their chosen programs of study, into College Algebra courses that are designed primarily to support students pursuing college programs that require Calculus, such as those in STEM fields.

At far too many colleges across the country, students who have no intention of entering programs that require Calculus are either placed into College Algebra or remedial course sequences intended to prepare students for College Algebra. Too few of these students complete the courses, which in turn negatively impacts their prospects for completing a degree.

The six states involved in the BMPPS initiative have designed new gateway math pathways that enable students pursuing non-STEM programs to enroll in rigorous and transferable math courses with instruction and content that is more relevant to their chosen program of study. Several institutions have begun to create pathways and expect to see significant improvements in their gateway math completion rates.

In addition, states are designing advising systems to assist students in better aligning their choice of a gateway math course with their chosen program of study, revising program requirements to align to the new pathways, and implementing Corequisite Remediation to enable students in need of additional academic support to receive it while enrolled in college-level gateway math courses.

All of the state initiatives are the result of a groundswell of support from math faculty leaders who have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the low success rates of students in gateway math courses and the negative impact it has had on students attitudes about and understanding of mathematics, not to mention their college success rates. In all cases, math faculty leaders from across these states came together to develop a set of recommendations on the role of mathematics in undergraduate education and the design of new math pathways that will ensure all college graduates have the quantitative skills needed to be productive workers and citizens.

All six states have or are in the process of developing learning outcomes and fully transferable courses in their new math pathways.

Some of the other major accomplishments in states include:

  • Nevada institutions have implemented plans and benchmarks for dramatically increasing the number and percent of new entering students who enroll in and complete gateway math courses in their first academic year. Early results are showing significant increases in enrollments in math courses at all of the state’s colleges and universities.
  • Ohio has designed a new Quantitative Reasoning pathway that will result in new quantitative reasoning courses for students in non-STEM majors. They are now providing intensive professional development for faculty on these courses.
  • Montana and Missouri are designing corequisite models for their new math pathway courses. Montana is fully committed to scaling corequisite support in both College Algebra and their newly-aligned Quantitative Reasoning course beginning in Fall 2018.
  • Colorado has created “Degrees of Designation” for high-enrollment programs in the social sciences and humanities where the math requirements for those programs are the same for virtually all institutions offering those programs in the state.
  • Indiana has created a new, transferable quantitative reasoning course and included it in their state transfer library. In addition, Indiana has designed new meta-majors that will be critical to guiding students into appropriate math courses based on their chosen program of study.


Next steps for the initiative will be to collect data on student outcomes as each states begins to scale their pathways. Preliminary findings from a handful of early adopting institutions will be available this summer. In addition, CCA will continue to work with states to fully support implementation at scale.

posted by Bruce Vandal


Thursday, February 9, 2017
Opening Doors

This Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., as several of us rushed to fill our coffee mugs before our weekly staff meeting, we noticed that the door to our office was standing wide open. I had been the last one in, but I was certain I had shut the door behind me. “It must have been a ghost” I joked.

We wouldn’t find out until two hours later, but at that precise moment, our president and founder Stan Jones breathed his last breath.

It is tempting for me to construe this as a supernatural occurrence, that Stan himself opened that door. Certainly, if anyone were to take a detour en route to the afterlife to check in at the office, it was Stan Jones. His work was an extension of himself and he never deviated his focus from it, even as he battled a cruel illness that robbed him of his energy, then his speech, and eventually his life. I find comfort in the idea that he came back for one last strategy session, one last opportunity to smirk and roll his eyes at a dumb idea or a bad joke, one last time to tell a story we’ve heard before but wanted to hear again, one last vigorous debate with his old friend Tom.

But realistically, I probably just didn’t latch the door properly. So I make sense of this moment – a door unexpectedly open at 10:00 am this Monday morning – by thinking of it as a metaphor, not a mystic occurrence.

Stan Jones opened doors.

The doors of our colleges and universities in the past required a special key to get in – wealthy, well-educated parents and a well-resourced high school. Stan Jones removed the lock and threw away the key. He opened higher education’s doors to poor students, to first-generation students, to Black and Hispanic students, to immigrants, to those so often kept out by discriminatory policies and practices. In Indiana, he made tuition free for these students as long as they did their part in high school to be prepared. At least 30,000 students have graduated thanks to the 21st Century Scholars program since he created it 25 years ago.

When there weren’t enough doors to open, Stan Jones created them.

When Indiana needed more high-quality associate degrees and workforce credentials for its economy and citizens, Stan Jones built a community college system, full of open doors in the both the urban centers and rural pockets of the state. Ivy Tech Community College now serves more than 170,000 students per year in 75 communities and with Stan’s urging, continues to focus more sharply on improving the graduation rates and workforce outcomes of its students.

When doors were boarded back up, Stan Jones came in with a battering ram.

An increased focus on college access meant our at-risk students could get in the door, but once inside they still faced policies and practices that essentially boarded up the door to graduation. While many rested on the laurels of increased access, Stan Jones refused to claim victory until students had college degrees in hand. Stan demanded that higher education do more than just tinker with marginal change. He insisted that the entire game change.

But he was also clear on how to do it, because in Stan’s words, “people need things to be concrete and specific.” As a result, once novel concepts – guided pathways in higher education, college students starting in college-level courses, redefining full-time as 15 credits – are now becoming commonplace in the field. True to Stan’s plan, these ideas didn’t stay within the walls of Complete College America. They became viral.

Before we knew it, the doors of higher education were more open than ever and the promise of college access began to be matched with the promise of college completion. Those countless students who benefitted will likely never know Stan’s name. But that’s okay. Stan didn’t care about their gratitude. He only cared about them.

So, did Stan Jones open the CCA office door this Monday at 10:00 a.m.? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he opened all the doors before that.

posted by Sarah Ancel


Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Stan Jones: A Game Changer (1949-2017)

Stan Jones, who transformed education in Indiana and throughout the nation as a long-time state legislator, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, and founder and president of the national nonprofit Complete College America, passed away peacefully at his home in Indianapolis on Monday, February 6th while surrounded by family.

An engineering graduate of Purdue University, Stan began his longstanding commitment to education in 1974, when, at the age of 24, he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, a seat he would hold for 16 years. As a member of both the House Education and State Budget committees, he developed expertise in education and education finance, emboldening his ever-growing passion for creating opportunity for students and their families, holding accountable institutions and systems to better serve our communities, and building bridges for those far too often left behind.

In 1990, he was tapped by then-Governor of Indiana Evan Bayh to serve as a senior advisor, a post he would hold for more than five years before being appointed as Indiana’s 5th Commissioner for Higher Education.

During his more than 12-year tenure at the Commission, a time in which he served under four governors from both parties, Stan transformed the agency from a policy-maker sounding board and budget organization into a catalyst for positive change in the state. He is credited as the primary architect of several landmark education policy initiatives, including the 21st Century Scholars program, an early promise scholarship aimed at increasing the number of low-income students attending and completing a postsecondary education. Additionally, he was instrumental in the creation of the state’s community college system; Indiana’s Education Roundtable; the deployment of outcomes-based funding; and the implementation of Core 40, a college prep curriculum that has contributed to significant increases in high school seniors going to college.

In 2009, following three decades of advocacy and reform in the state of Indiana, Stan founded Complete College America in order to build a network of states committed to substantially increasing the number of Americans with a postsecondary credential. Under his leadership, the organization grew to 42 member states and institutional consortia and advanced an ambitious agenda to revolutionize the nation’s higher education systems and close attainment gaps for underrepresented populations.

Whenever urging forward those around him, Stan would often famously say, “change at the margins will only produce marginal change.” Those words could never be used to describe Stan Jones – a leader, husband, father and man who made a significant difference for the betterment of Indiana and our country.

A visitation will be held from 2:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Friday, February 10, 2017, at Daniel F. O’Riley Funeral Home, 6107 S. East Street, Indianapolis, IN 46227.  Funeral will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at St. Roch Catholic Church, 3600 S. Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis, IN 46227. Burial to follow at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

For those inclined, the family suggests contributions to Complete College America for the Stan Jones Memorial Scholarship, supporting 21st Century Scholars. Donations can be made at or mailed to Complete College America, 429 East Vermont Street, Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46202.

posted by Blake Johnson


Thursday, July 28, 2016
Coreq and College Algebra

Spanning the Divide revealed dramatic improvements in gateway math course success when institutions shift from traditional prerequisite remediation to Corequisite Remediation.  However, many have rightly pointed out that much of the corequisite success for math students is for students enrolled in quantitative reasoning and statistics courses. The question posed by many is whether corequisites work for college algebra and whether success in corequisite college algebra translates into success in subsequent math courses.

Of the current corequisite scale states, Georgia has used corequisites for college algebra most extensively. In addition, there are individual institutions like University of Nevada Reno and Oklahoma State that have utilized corequisites for their college algebra courses.  The data from these institutions reveals that corequisites can most definitely work in college algebra.

College of Coastal Georgia

As the University of Georgia System shifts to a policy where at least 50% of all students in need of academic support will receive it via corequisites, institutions like the College of Coastal Georgia have begun offering corequisites for their college algebra and quantitative reasoning courses.

Before the implementation of coreq at CCG, only about 36% of students placed into remedial education were completing gateway math courses in two academic years.  Now, 56% of students placed into the corequisite college algebra course are completing college algebra in a single semester.  The success rate for college algebra students is not far off from the success rates of 62% for students who are placed directly into college algebra.

Equally important is the success rate in subsequent math courses after college algebra.  Because Georgia is moving to a math pathways strategy, college algebra is no longer viewed as a terminal math course and instead is seen as a gateway into higher level math, including calculus.  The results from CCG show that corequisite college algebra can be a gateway into higher level math.  Of those that completed corequisite college algebra, 53% who enrolled in Trigonometry received a “C” or better.  This percent is comparable to the 63% success rate for students who did not require the corequisite college algebra course.

Oklahoma State University

OSU made a similar shift to a college algebra corequisite for students who intend to pursue a calculus based math sequence. The results are equally as promising.

Of those placed into the college algebra corequisite, 65.5% completed the course with a “C” or better, slightly below the 68.8% of students placed directly into college algebra.  Most promising is that first generation college students actually performed better in the corequisite course than those placed directly into college algebra. 68.7% of first generation students who enrolled in the college algebra corequisite completed the course, compared to 63% of first generation college students placed directly into college algebra.

Success rates for students in subsequent math courses were 83.7% for students who completed the corequisite college algebra course.  Most students who enrolled in subsequent math were enrolled in either Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus or Business Calculus.

University of Nevada Reno

The success of students enrolled in corequisite college algebra has been documented previously by CCA in this blog post.  Most interesting is that UNR is seeing that students who completed their college algebra corequisite are very successful in subsequent college courses.  UNR found that successful corequisite college algebra students were far more likely to pass either Business Calculus or Pre-Calculus than students who were placed directly into those two courses.  88% of successful corequisite college algebra students who enrolled in Business Calculus were successful, compared to only 74% who were placed directly into Business Calculus.  Likewise, 84% of corequisite college algebra completers passed Pre-Calculus, compared to 83% for those who placed directly into Pre-Calculus.

While the data is still preliminary, there is reason to believe that as states create a more streamlined pathway for college algebra into higher level math, Corequisite Remediation can become a viable strategy for increasing access and success into programs of study in STEM fields and other fields that require higher-level math.

posted by Bruce Vandal


Sunday, July 10, 2016
Year-Round Pell is Important, But It’s Not Enough

The higher education community was hopeful when, last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee put forth a funding bill that would bring back year-round (or summer) Pell. But just last week, the House Appropriations Committee shared a draft bill that does not include the provision.

Not only should Congress fund year-round Pell, they should go further and ensure the program is built for many more students to complete their degrees on time. Year-round Pell is a critical tool to help more students progress toward a degree; however, year-round Pell, by itself, is not enough. Students certainly need the Pell Grant to be more flexible and available, but they also need the program to provide a clear path to on-time graduation, which it currently lacks. That’s why in our new policy brief, On-Time Pell: Maintain Access, Ensure Completion, Complete College America (CCA) outlines a plan for the creation of an “on-time” status for the Pell Grant. By leveraging the expanded flexibility of year-round Pell and matching it with a clear and guided pathway toward on-time completion, we can transform the expectation for both full-time and part-time students, communicating clearly that on-time graduation is feasible. On-time Pell, as proposed by Complete College America, would enable students to complete 30 funded credits per year in whichever enrollment pattern works for them.

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Currently, the Pell Grant covers only 12 credits per term or 24 credits per year, but to graduate on time, students must complete 30 credits per year. Pell Grant recipients who currently choose to enroll in 30 credits are forced to cover the remaining six credits without financial support from the grant. On-time Pell communicates to students what is needed to graduate on time and sets an expectation for both full-time and part-time students to do so.

This proposal does not change the per-student funding level; it simply allows students to draw down their lifetime Pell eligibility more quickly. It does not change the definition of full-time or harm any other Pell population; it simply adds another status designation for students to better understand what it takes to graduate and how to get there.

Why has Complete College America, a state policy organization, come out with a federal policy proposal? For two reasons: First, most states and institutions adhere to the federal definition of full-time as 12 credits for their financial aid programs and would likely follow suit if a new federal standard were set to encourage on-time completion. Second, Complete College America’s work across our 40 state and consortium members (and down into systems and institutions) is directly impacted by the current limitations of Pell. The creation of an on-time Pell status would go a long way to both support and spur efforts by states and institutions to help their students graduate in a timely manner.

Year-round Pell is important, but at this moment, when the higher education community is standing up to support it, we need to use this opportunity to go further and ensure significantly more students can earn their degrees on time.

posted by Julie Johnson


Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Complete College America and the Alliance: Redefining How We Measure Success

Measuring Outcomes for More Students

It is imperative to the future of this nation that we Increase degree completion in higher education, yet for many years, the higher education community measured success at colleges and universities by looking at outcomes for only a portion of students. In 2010, Complete College America partnered with the National Governors Association to change this. We worked with the Work Group on Common College Completion Metrics to urge states to collect both outcome and progress metrics for all students, including part-time and transfer students, broken out by race/ethnicity, gender, age, Pell status, and remedial need. Specifically, the resulting publication Compete to Complete: Common College Completion Metric urged Governors, higher education executive officers, legislators, and college and university presidents to implement policy and data system changes to produce accurate information on the following metrics:

Context: Enrollment; Completion Ratio

Outcome Metrics: Degrees and certificates awarded; Graduation rates; Transfer rates; Time and credits to degree

Progress Metrics: Enrollment in remedial education; Success beyond remedial education; Success in first-year college courses; Credit accumulation; Retention rates; Course completion

Stakeholders from Complete College America’s Alliance of States rose to this challenge, and over the past five years, more than 30 states and 500 institutions have submitted these metrics to Complete College America, creating an unprecedented data set that includes students whose outcomes have never before been measured and outcomes that have never before been understood at scale.

Complete College America has used these data to highlight the impact of additional time in a student’s ability to complete a degree and to highlight the consistent challenges in the higher education system. Alliance states have used these metrics to create new funding models, measure their current performance and track the success of new interventions. And now that the data set has grown and matured, we look forward to the overall impact it might have in addressing unanswered questions for the field as a whole.

Moving the Field Forward

This year marks another turning point in the metrics conversation. Six years after Complete College America and the National Governors Association released the Common Completion Metrics, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released Answering the Call: Institutions and States Lead the Way Toward Better Measures of Postsecondary Performance. This piece calls for the entire field to count all students and institutions, count all outcomes, and count all costs. This work brings together the work done by more than 15 voluntary data initiatives and urges the field to scale the exchange of essential higher education metrics. The framework draws heavily on the Common Completion Metrics to define access, progress, completion, and equity measures.

This work was followed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s (IHEP) Toward Convergence: A Technical Guide for the Postsecondary Metrics Framework. This technical guide provides functional definitions for all the metrics defined in Answering the Call’s framework.

The Complete College America Alliance of States leads the way as a model for how states and institutions can report and use these metrics. With a few exceptions, states and institutions already reporting the Common Completion Metrics to Complete College America will find the definitions related to Access, Progress, Completion and Equity metrics almost identical to those they have been reporting for more than five years.

Today, IHEP, in conjunction with leaders in the field, will release Envisioning the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure in the 21st Century, a paper series that examines existing Postsecondary Data Infrastructure and provides clear recommendations to support a more functional data ecosystem. These papers discuss opportunities and improvements in existing systems, pathways to greater flexibility in exchanging data, a proposal for a centralized student data system at the federal level and guidance on protecting privacy and quality. Complete College America partnered with our data collection partners at the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) to highlight the importance of these state postsecondary data systems. These are the systems that have enabled the vast majority of states to report the Common Completion Metrics. They provide an important resource in the field and are essential to helping states plan, respond and assess changing state needs, not to mention they are critical to states’ ability to improve student outcomes. The release of these papers will be livestreamed here at 12:30 PM Eastern on May 18th.

Complete College America has always relied on data as the foundation of our work to drive the field toward improving outcomes for all students. We look forward to helping support the data ecosystem as we work together to scale the use of student data to improve outcomes for everyone.

posted by Katie Zaback


Friday, February 12, 2016
Remedial Education’s Role in Perpetuating Achievement Gaps

With new research adding to the evidence that students of color are far less likely to earn postsecondary credentials, we are once again faced with the challenge of how we can best close achievement gaps in postsecondary education.  It is abundantly clear that increasing attainment rates among students of color, first generation students and low-income students is essential to dramatically increasing college completion rates. CCA remains committed to tackling head on the issues of educational equity and helping states implement CCA’s Game Changers to improve outcomes for traditionally underrepresented populations.

Recent data from Complete College America’s Alliance of States finds that students of color and low-income students are far more likely to be placed into remedial education and, consequently, far less likely to ever pass college-level courses in math and English.  In particular, African American students are most disadvantaged by the prevailing system of traditional pre-requisite remedial education. 70% of African American community college students and almost half enrolled at non-flagship, four-year institutions are placed into and enroll in at least one remedial course in their first academic year. Students receiving Pell grants are also far more likely to be placed into remedial education, meaning that these students are expending this financial resource on courses that do not count toward a postsecondary credential.

Percent of New Entering Students Enrolled in Remedial Education



Not only are students of color and low-income students more likely to be placed into remedial education, they are more likely to be placed in both remedial math and English.  40% of African American students, 30% of Latino students and 32% of Pell students at community colleges are enrolled in both remedial math and English.  As a result, these students have, at a minimum, two additional courses they must enroll in, complete and pay for as part of their postsecondary education.  For many, they must complete multiple remedial math and English courses before they ever see a college-level math or English course.  It is easy to understand how placement in remedial education could negatively impact efforts to boost completion rates among students of color and low-income students.  Ultimately, these students must do more and pay more for their degree.

Percent of New Entering 2-year Students Enrolled in Remedial Math, English or Both Subjects


Not surprisingly, students of color and low-income students placed into remedial education are far less likely to complete their remedial education requirements, enroll in and complete college-level math courses within 2-years.  Only 11% of African American students complete their gateway math and/or English course in two academic years after being placed in remedial education.

Percent of New Entering Community College Students Completing Gateway Math and/or English Courses in Two Academic Years 


Adding time and cost to a degree by placing students in long remedial sequences disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color, arguably contributing to – not eliminating – the college equity gap in postsecondary education.

CCA’s recent report Spanning the Divide is showing that Corequisite Remediation – placing students into college-level courses and providing support while enrolled in those courses – is increasing college-level gateway course pass rates to nearly three times the rate of traditional remediation, and it’s happening in about a quarter of the time.  It stands to reason that the movement toward large-scale implementation of corequisite support can reduce the equity gap in higher education. There are many examples of Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges that have already undertaken this work to better serve underrepresented students. Our job is to amplify that existing work and move it to scale.

posted by Bruce Vandal


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