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TribBlog: Graduation Gains

Though graduation rates for community colleges are stagnant nationwide, a few Texas colleges have seen improvements. But don't go busting out the champagne just yet.

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Though graduation rates for community colleges are stagnant nationwide, a few Texas colleges have seen modest improvements.

South Texas College in McAllen has seen the three-year graduation rate of its first-time, degree-seeking students increase by 4 percentage points since 2007 — from 12 percent to 16 percent. In the same time frame, El Paso Community College has seen its comparable graduation rate grow from 5 percent to a still-low 7 percent. 

Both schools are considered leading participants in Achieving the Dream, a 7-year-old nationwide initiative to boost community college success rates by getting schools to confront their often-dismal data head on and develop strategies for improvement. William Trueheart, the president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, said even these slight gains are "remarkable" given the low-income and minority populations such institutions serve.

Carol Lincoln, the senior vice president of Achieving the Dream, noted that the gains represent hundreds of students who are now earning degrees. "We're talking about large, large numbers of students," she said. Though, she acknowledged, "These numbers are still low. Nobody is saying they aren't."

Lincoln compared changing a community college to "turning a battleship around." According to data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, only three of 10 full-time community college students in Texas receive any credential in six years.

"When the trend is down, and our trend is up, that's a good thing," Lincoln said. While she says no one yet has the magic formula for truly dramatic jumps in graduation rates, she believes improvements will pick up speed as more schools adopt evidence-based approaches to fostering student success.

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