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December 28, 2013
Another View: California Community Colleges leads the way in accountability

Brice_Harris.jpg(December 28 - By Brice W. Harris, Special to The Bee)

The California Community Colleges agree with The Bee's editorial, "Families need better college rating system" (Dec. 19), calling for better college accountability. That is why in the past several months we made available two new tools to provide better information on the performance of our colleges and on what students can expect to earn in the workplace after completing one of our programs.

This year we rolled out the Student Success Scorecard. Students, parents, policymakers and the public can go on the website of any of the colleges in the state or on the chancellor's office site to see how each of the 112 colleges is doing on key indicators of student success.

The news on the state as a whole is mixed. On the positive side, if students come to a California community college prepared for college-level work, they succeed more than 71 percent of the time. However, if they arrive in need of remediation in either math or English, that figure drops to 42 percent. The reasons students arrive unprepared are many, and unfortunately three-fourths of our more than 2 million students arrive needing remediation in one or both areas.

Other indicators of success included in the scorecard, such as completion in basic skills and career/technical education, provide the kind of transparency the public should have about our colleges. As important as accountability to the public is the opportunity for colleges to use these data to improve their work with students.

That is why the Board of Governors charted an ambitious course to improve success for all students and to close the troubling performance gaps by race, ethnicity, gender and age which persist in our colleges. We believe this tool makes the California community college system the most accountable system of higher education in the country.

The other tool especially designed for students and parents is Salary Surfer. This online system details what students earn two years before completing a degree or certificate and two and four years after in our most often enrolled programs. Although certainly not the only way of making a college field of study choice, the tool does allow families to judge the relative return on investment of the time and money spent earning a community college certificate or associate degree.

Some of the increases in earnings are remarkable, such as programs in radiation therapy technology where student earnings two years before the degree were only $7,638 and two years after completion jumped to $81,376. Other increases are more modest, such as in fashion merchandising where the gain was from $15,256 to $24,517.

Students and families are cautioned not to use this tool as the only reason to select a field of study. Individual interests and abilities are extremely important in deciding what field to study, but Salary Surfer helps students and families make more informed decisions.

In an age of increasing calls for transparency and accountability in nearly every sector of life, the California Community Colleges are proud of making information more readily available to the public. Some of the news is not good, but we feel strongly that knowing our challenges is the first effective step to solving them.

Brice W. Harris is the chancellor of California Community Colleges.



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