Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Delivering Measurable Results

Happy Spring! When I haven't been worrying about collapsing ceilings and wet basements, I have been watching the new pressures from Washington sweep over higher education. America's approach to higher education has created tremendous economic power for our country. We have opened our doors wider to potential students than any other country. After World War II, we welcomed home our returning servicemen and women and gave them unlimited access to higher education. My father took full advantage and ended up with a law degree from the University of Miami. In the seventies, we created and expanded our Community Colleges, offering second chance access to a whole range of students, including non-traditional students from our inner cities and our rural areas. The idea was to offer low cost, low frills education to as many Americans as possible.

Charter Oak was part of this expansion when it was created in 1973 to offer adult learners a way to bring their prior learning experience and college credits from almost anyplace to one institution that could help them shape those experiences into a degree. Our country has been brilliant at access to higher education.

For the past ten years, the Federal government has been increasing its financial support of higher education through Pell grants, which support our poorest students. That contribution has continued to grow, while state support for public higher education has remained flat or decreased. So it is not shocking that the Federal government is now asking us to report on the return on investment from its $150 billion dollars in financial aid support. Access, alone, is no longer enough; we have to deliver results.

So I have been working with a group of college Presidents collected by the Gates Foundation to find a set of performance metrics that colleges and universities can use to measure their educational accomplishments. These metrics include items like the six year graduation rate (how many students graduate in 150% of the normal time). In Charter Oak's case, we are at 63% on this scale, second only to UCONN in Connecticut’s public higher education system. And Charter Oak's number is up from last year’s result, which was an all time high.

We are also measuring our first-to-second-year retention and the workplace success of our graduates (our Connecticut grads improved their weekly income by $404 according to the Department of Labor). It is important for higher education institutions to know what their educational effects are and to report these widely and clearly. I am pleased to be part of the national work being done in this area, and proud of Charter Oak's success. But we can’t rest on our laurels. All of us will need to be reaching ever higher. So, expect to hear more about how higher education is succeeding at its educational mission, and how Charter Oak is doing in comparison to its peer institutions.